The Oakland Raiders haven’t been very good for a long time, but at least Raiders fans had some things to cherish.
They had the team’s winning history, those sliver and black uniforms and perhaps the NFL's best special-teams combo of punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski, year after year.
In 2013 the history and uniforms were still there, but Lechler was long gone and Janikowski wasn’t himself anymore.
The Raiders deemed Lechler too expensive and allowed him to leave in free agency, but decided to go all in on Janikowski and signed him to a four-year contract extension in August.
At the time, it seemed a good idea to lock up Janikowski, who was coming off one of the best seasons of his career for weak 4-12 team. In 2012, Janikowski made 91.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, including all 24 from under 50 yards, going 31-for-34. It was the highest accuracy rate of his career and, paired with his 2011 season – 31-for-35 (88.6 percent) – gave Janikowski a terrific two-year record.
The four-year extension was reported to be worth $19 million, with $8 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal.
But Janikowski, 35, then proceeded to have the worst season of his career statistically.
He made just 21-of-30 field-goal tries, a mere 70 percent success rate that was 10 points below his career mark of 80 percent.
What was most troubling was that many of Janikowski’s misses came from distances that previously had been automatic for him. He missed twice from under 40 yards and three times from between 40-49 yards. And he was just 3-of-7 from 50 or beyond. Those long kicks are difficult, but over the previous two seasons combined, Janikowski had been 13-for-19.
For a team desperate for wins, some of the misses were painful. In a 23-19 loss to the Titans, Janikowski missed two field-goal attempts that seemed makeable.
So what can the Raiders expect from Janikowski in 2014? It’s hard to say.
Janikowski’s woes have been attributed to a calf injury, the dirt infield at O.co Coliseum, a glitch in mechanics and a new holder in punter Marquette King, who replaced Lechler, who had been his regular holder for years.
In November all the fingers were pointed at King as the No. 1 culprit. Janikowski even told a sideline radio reporter at one point after a missed kick due to a bad hold.
But then Janikowski pointed the finger at himself, telling Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that a long film session had revealed a flaw in his technique.
“It seems like my steps are off to the side and I am too wide,” he told Tafur. “My plant foot is way ahead and I am not finishing.”
In late November, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen didn’t single out Janikowski, but said the misses were attributable to a whole breakdown.
“I’d say it’s a field-goal unit problem,” he told the media. “There’s 11 guys out there. It’s not all on one guy. We have to improve in that area – snap, hold, kick, protection. The goal is to get the ball through the uprights, and there’s 11 guys responsible for making sure that happens.”
Maybe so, but the Raiders will be paying one of those guys a lot of money in 2014 to kick the ball through those posts, and if the franchise makes significant financial investments this offseason in its own free agents, veterans from other teams and rookies in the draft, the Raiders will want their expensive, veteran kicker to be a lot better.