Labriola On

Steelers-By-Position: Specialists

Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 18.

Jordan Berry, Chris Boswell, Kameron Canaday
(Free Agent Scorecard: 1 restricted – Kameron Canaday)

The significant development here was Chris Boswell's return to form as one of the most reliable placekickers in the league. One year after his worst season in the NFL, when he made only 13-of-20 field goals (65 percent) and also missed five PATs, Boswell bounced back in a big way with a performance that certainly saved his job with the Steelers.

Whether his problems in 2018 were mechanical, psychological, or some combination of both, Boswell handled things perfectly in 2019. He was due a sizable roster bonus in the spring of 2019, but he agreed to defer it until the end of August, which effectively set up a situation where Boswell would be spending the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason kicking for his job and that bonus. During a competition that in truth was more with himself than against another kicker, Boswell cemented his roster spot when he made both of his field goal attempts and all four of his PATs during the preseason.

After he earned his bonus and secured his roster spot, Boswell never allowed his performance to become an issue during the 2019 regular season. He was 29-of-31 on field goal attempts (93.5 percent), and 28-for-28 on PATs. Boswell had thrown a wet blanket over what could have turned into a burning issue all season long, and he is back to being entrenched as the team's placekicker.

Jordan Berry has been in line for criticism from outside the organization for his punting, but his statistics place him at or close to the top in most punting categories in Steelers history, even while acknowledging his ranking among current NFL punters places him in the middle of the pack.

Berry punted 74 times in 2019 with a 45.5-yard gross average, which ranked 16th in the league, and his four touchbacks tied him for 17th in that category among qualifiers. Also, Berry and the punt coverage unit set a single-season franchise record with a 40.9-yard net average, even though that number ranked 21st in the NFL last season. The previous single-season franchise record for net punting average was 39.8, which also happened during Berry's tenure with the team.

Berry's 44.2-yard gross average over his five seasons with the Steelers puts him third in franchise history, behind all-time leader Bobby Joe Green (45.7 in 1960-61) and Pat Brady (44.5 in 1952-54).

Long-snapper Kameron Canaday was largely invisible throughout the season, and that's exactly what a team is seeking from a player at that position.

Discounting his sub-par 2018 season, Boswell has converted 114-of-126 field goal attempts in his four other seasons with the team, with two of his 12 misses coming from 50-plus yards. That's a 90.5 percent success rate, and Boswell's home stadium is Heinz Field, and the other cities in the AFC North are Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.

Chris Boswell is entrenched as the placekicker by virtue of his 2019 performance, and rightfully so. Kameron Canaday is a restricted free agent, but he is unlikely to be tendered at a level requiring compensation because the Steelers are going to be tight against the cap. Based on his past performance with the team, though, Canaday would be a heavy favorite to retain the job if he re-signs. When it comes to Jordan Berry, do the Steelers believe they can do better even though he ranks among the most successful punters in franchise history? The final consideration with Berry is that he has been Boswell's holder throughout the placekicker's tenure with the team, and breaking up what largely has been such a successful pairing isn't something NFL teams tend to do on a whim.
NEXT: Tight Ends