To continue our “Packers 100” countdown, we move onto the team’s best offseason moves this year. Green Bay Packers football is just 20 days away. You can find the full countdown here.
A vast majority of NFL fans would agree that the primary building blocks needed to compose a Super-Bowl contender would include a franchise quarterback, solid running game, quality bookends on the offensive line and a formidable pass rush. But the mere mention of a strong punter as a core foundation piece would probably draw plenty of blank stares.
Yet more than any other player, the punter is the component that determines field position. History has proven that pinning your opponent behind the 20 yard line and forcing them to drive long fields is a key element in reducing their scoring output.
Over the past six seasons, the Packers have enlisted the services of Tim Masthay as the man in charge of flipping the field in hopes of driving the opposition way back in its own end.
The 29 year-old has been nothing if not reliable in terms of his annual yards-per-punt totals, which have mildly fluctuated between 43.9 and 45.6 since 2010.
Masthay hit a rough patch in 2014 by ranking third-worst in punts landing inside the 20 yard line, but he rebounded nicely the following season by improving his net average by nearly three full yards from 37.9 to a career-best 40.2.
What’s the more, the lanky red-head was the driving force behind opposing teams averaging a league-best 4.2 yards per return.
So why would bringing in a prospect talented enough to unseat the steady force that is Tim Masthay figure prominently on our top-offseason-moves list?
For one, while Masthay is coming off a resurgent 2015 campaign, only 18 of his 81 punts fell inside the 20 yard line—a far cry from his 2012 season in which 30 of his attempts landed behind the 20.
Also consider that Masthay is earning an average of nearly $1.4 million in annual salary, which only ranks him 19th in salary among his peers at his position, according to Overthecap.com.
But the thinking over at 1265 Lombardi Ave is why not explore replacing the incumbent with a street free agent that can perform just as well or better at a bare minimum rate of about $450,000?
Enter Green Bay native Peter Mortell, who has come back home after a storied college career at the University of Minnesota where he broke a 30-year school record by averaging 44 yards per punt.
While all the local rags are playing up the fact that the 23-year-old once worked as a stat runner during game days at Lambeau Field, the former Big Ten punter of the year has proven to be more than just a nice story.
While the team was well aware of the undrafted rookie’s leg strength, it was impressive to see him in action against real-live competition in Green Bay’s first preseason tilt versus the Browns.
After uncorking a rather pedestrian punt of 33 yards in his first try, Mortell launched his next one 62 yards with a hang time of 4.59 seconds. His last and final punt of the evening was of the coffin-corner variety that traveled 37 yards with a 4.15-second hang time.
The one-time Golden Gopher picked up right where he left off versus the Raiders with booming efforts of 57 and 58 yards, both of which resulted in no return yardage on the part of the Silver and Black.
Masthay was no slouch either by punting the ball 50 yards on an earlier attempt with a 4.94 hang time forcing the return team to call a fair catch.
Judging by Green Bay’s first two games, one would be tempted to declare Mortell the winner of this competition based on his upside. But the young hasn’t been immune to a few bouts of inconsistency.
In fact, prior to the Raiders game, Mortell reportedly experienced a rough week of practice in which he struggled with generating sufficient hang time.
This battle is far from over, as both punters have the ability to perform as above-average punters.
Although there’s a higher probability of witnessing a 65-yard punt coming off the foot of Mortell, Masthay is the safer option whose main objective is simply “executing the fundamentals” as he revealed in a recent interview.
Special teams coach Ron Zook will evaluate the two special-teams contributors on their ability to kick it to spots rather than solely focusing on yards-per-punt totals.
Whoever is more successful in pinning the enemy further back on its own side of the field will be the one snapping off punts in Jacksonville.