In a move that was anticipated by many, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released kicker Martin Gramatica Tuesday, ending his tenure as a Buccaneer before he could even complete his sixth season as a Pewter Pirate.
The decision to part ways with Gramatica, the team’s all-time leading scorer (592 points), comes just two days after he missed two field goal attempts and had another blocked en route to a 21-14 loss to Carolina.
A 1999 third-round draft pick out of Kansas State, Gramatica was nicknamed “Automatica” by making 82 percent of his field goal attempts through his first four seasons in the NFL. He even earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2000 after drilling 82.4 percent of his field goal tries.
But Gramatica has made just 11-of-19 (57.8 percent) of his field goal attempts this season and is just 27-of-45 (60 percent) since the 2003 season, where he made just 61.5 percent of his field goal tries after undergoing successful surgery to repair a hernia during the offseason.
“This is an emotional move for this franchise,” Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said of the team’s decision to release Gramatica. “Besides his friends in the locker room, he has developed a very close relationship with a lot of our coaches and the staff with the Buccaneers. He’s quite the professional. He’s in a slump; it’s well-documented. The last couple of years, he hasn’t performed up to his level. It’s a good level for some but not up to the Gramatica perfection that he had in prior years. In discussions with him, we felt that it might be better to free him of his obligations right now.”
The Bucs auditioned kickers Tuesday and settled on a familiar face by signing Jay Taylor, who signed on to the team’s practice squad earlier this month when Gramatica was nursing a injury.
“Well, Jay got a great audition for an entire week of kicking here and being at our facility and being around our team, and he performed well that week,” said Allen. “We were concerned when we signed him that Martin wasn’t going to be able to kick that week. Over the course of this season, we have worked out I think it’s 10 kickers and he’s performed the best of all of them.”
Some thought the Bucs might keep two kickers on their active roster in an effort to buy Gramatica even more time to work out of his kicking slump, but Allen said Tuesday that such a scenario wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the team or the player.
“He’s not going to kick for us,” Allen said of Gramatica. “It’s really preventing him from maybe looking for a new opportunity in the next few weeks. He’ll be, I’m sure, later in December or January, people are going to work him out. If we’re not going to use him, that’s unfair to him, and it’s unfair to the football team. We’re very banged up and we need all the practice bodies and people who we have right now on the field.”
Taylor previously had stints with Cleveland, Buffalo and Miami in 2003, 2001 and 2000, respectively. He also saw action in NFL Europe with NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire and the XFL’s Orlando Rage.
Taylor’s most recent experience came in the Arena Football League, where he led the league with a .720 field goal percentage by making 18-of-25 attempts.
While signing Taylor may remedy Tampa Bay’s kicking woes, releasing Gramatica certainly won’t help the Bucs’ salary cap situation next year. When asked to explain the cap ramifications of Tuesday’s roster move, Allen described the salary cap hit the Bucs will take next year as “large.”
Gramatica was signed a seven-year contract extension by former Bucs general manager Rich McKay during the 2002 offseason. That deal included what was believed to be a signing bonus worth around $2 million.
Although he’s struggled over the past season and a half, Allen feels Gramatica will return to form one day. Tampa Bay was hoping that day would come while he was still playing in a red and pewter uniform, but the 4-7 Bucs could no longer afford to be loyal to Gramatica while his inability to make field goals on a consistent basis continued to cost them some much-needed points and wins.
“I think that’s fair to say, that we had confidence in him this offseason after last year,” said Allen. “But he earned that. He earned that by helping this team put that big rock on their fingers, the same way other players have earned the right to their positions based on prior performance. And in the hope that he would rebound. I firmly believe he is going to be a good kicker in this league at some point, and that could be five years from now, but he will be because he has the talent and has demonstrated that he can do it.
“[Gramatica] could be a Buc again. It’s the way he handles himself on and off the field that makes comfortable that, if it was right, he could come back at some point.”
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