Oakland Raiders: Will 2016 Be The Last Ride For The Polish Cannon?

Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (11) leaves the field after his team defeated the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Oakland won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (11) leaves the field after his team defeated the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Oakland won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports /

Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been a mainstay for the last decade and a half – but will 2016 bring about the end of an era?

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When Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis used a first round pick on a big, portly kicker out of Florida State all the way back in 2000, there were plenty of raised eyebrows and open laughter about the pick. After all, who uses a first round pick on a kicker? Sixteen seasons and a very distinguished NFL career later, it might just be the late Al Davis and Sebastian Janikowski having the last laugh about it.

At 6’1” and pushing 260 pounds, Janikowski was better known for his “phsyique” than he was for his kicking prowess – at least, in some circles. But Janikowski, otherwise known as the “Polish Cannon” has carved out a place for himself in team and league lore – and the record books – and has proven beyond a reasonable doubt, to possess one of the strongest legs in NFL history.

When Davis used the seventeenth overall pick on Janikowski in the 2000 draft, Davis was excoriated by the media – and even some fans. But if you step back and look objectively at that draft class, you would see that, as it turned out, taking Janikowski at seventeen was a pretty savvy move.

The 2000 draft class was largely forgettable. Though there were arguably, a few big time players at the top of the order – Brian Urlacher, Jamal Lewis, and Plaxico Burress – by the time the Raiders were on the clock, the talent pool was actually pretty shallow and it was pretty well devoid of “star” players.

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The Raiders were able to nab a good one in Shane Lechler in the fifth round, and the Patriots took what turned out to be a Hall of Famer in Tom Brady in the sixth, but go through that entire 2000 draft class – from seventeen on down – and you’ll find that it turned out to be a pretty overwhelming dud of a class.

Perhaps seeing the lack of depth and talent in the field, Davis – after all, he was a premier evaluator of talent, once upon a time – decided to use that first round pick on a guy who ultimately became the franchise’s all time scoring leader and one of the cornerstone pieces of the team for a long, long time.

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Janikowski is by far, the longest tenured member of the Silver and Black and is closer in age to head coach Jack Del Rio than he is to many of his current teammates. He’s been a stabilizing, veteran presence in the locker room for a lot of years now, and by all accounts, one of the best teammates you can have.

But as we know, all good things must come to an end. And Janikowski, now creeping up on 40 years old, might just be taking his final ride in Silver and Black this season.

Though he’s signed through the end of 2017, with extremely pricey contract extensions looming for quarterback Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and even Amari Cooper a little bit down the road, GM Reggie McKenzie is going to need to start saving every penny he can. And for as great as Janikowski is in the locker room – and as great as he’s been for the franchise – that cap hit of more than $4 million dollars in 2017 might be a tough pill to swallow – especially when he will only account for $360k in dead money if the team releases him.

While there is no doubting the power in Janikowski’s leg – even today – his accuracy has always been a concern. His best season as a pro was 2012, when he converted 91.2 percent of his field goal attempts. But he followed that up in 2013 with a 70 percent showing. Last season, Janikowski ranked near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, putting together an 80.8 percent effort – twenty-sixth in the NFL.

Oakland Raiders
December 21, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (11) kicks a field goal out of the hold by quarterback Matt Schaub (8) against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

With kicker Giorgio Tavecchio hanging around the team the last couple of years, it’s very possible that they are grooming him to be Janikowski’s replacement – one who is younger (25) and will be cheaper – by far.

There are some who undoubtedly will write Tavecchio off as nothing more than a camp leg, and that could also be very possible. However, it’s still hard to overlook the idea that Janikowski’s salary, age, and decline in accuracy could be forcing the team’s hand to go in another direction – especially with the aforementioned expensive contracts for key players looming on the horizon.

Janikowski is a fan favorite and has absolutely carved out a place not just in Raiders history, but in NFL history as well. In addition to being the franchise’s scoring leader and holding a large number of team records, Janikowski still holds a number of significant NFL records.

Janikowski holds the record for longest field goal in overtime (57 yards), most field goals in one quarter (4), is tied for most field goals of 50 plus yards in a career (52), is tied for most field goals of 60 plus yards in a career (2), most field goals of 50 or more yards in a game (3), and most extra points in a Pro Bowl (8).

Time – and in today’s NFL world, money – catches up with everybody. It’s a sad fact of reality that it will cost far more to keep Janikowski next season than it will to release him. And if retaining the nucleus of this team is important – spoiler alert, it is – McKenzie is going to need to be smart with the money and make some incredibly tough decisions.

Janikowski is without a doubt, one of the all time Raider greats. And the mark he left on the franchise, as well as the league is indelible. If this is indeed his last ride in Silver and Black, we can only hope that this team can truly make good on the promise they are showing, that they can give Janikowski one last taste of the playoffs – something he hasn’t even sniffed since 2002 – before he heads off into the sunset.

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Davis was openly mocked for taking Janikowski in the first round way back in the day – just as he was when he took Ray Guy way back in 1973. But Davis is the one having the last laugh since just as it did with Guy, things with Janikowski worked out pretty darn well.