Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker had one of the most historic rookie seasons in NFL history in 2017.
In addition to setting nine franchise records, Butker’s 38 field goals were the most in league history for a rookie, and because he came to the Chiefs in the middle of the season, he had three less games to accomplish those feats.
All seemed right heading into the Chiefs’ Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans, until disaster struck.
After making 38 of 42 kicks in the regular season, Butker missed his lone playoff attempt, a 48-yarder in the third quarter, with the Chiefs leading 21-10.
Everyone is well aware of what happened next.
“You can’t think about that missed kick and let it haunt you,” Butker said during his first media availability at Chiefs training camp on Saturday. “You take one kick at a time, and I think, me personally, I try to take the pressure off myself and treat every kick and every extra point like it’s the exact same. That way I’m not treating an extra point versus a big kick any differently. You miss it and you go onto the next.”
It is the right approach for Butker, who, going by the greater sample size of his work, has a very promising career ahead of him.
And to think—this time last year, he was in the midst of a kicking competition with nine-year veteran Graham Gano.
“There were so many unknowns,” Butker said of being in camp with the Panthers last season. “It was very difficult, but now I feel a little better knowing that I proved myself last year—I can do it. I deserve to be here. And then it’s just improving upon that and saying, ‘How can I get better?’ Not losing the work ethic.
“Keeping that up as if I’m competing, as if I could potentially get cut in training camp. I’m trying to push myself. I’m trying to be perfect. I think that’s what really makes people, especially specialists, do great in this league. Never being complacent and always pushing themselves, you never know what can happen.”
Butker’s words should be pleasing to the Chiefs and their fans, given the caliber of kicker they have on their roster for just a $555,000 cap hit this season.
In comparison, Cairo Santos signed with the New York Jets on a one-year, $2 million deal, while Gano signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Panthers. Butker is due to become an exclusive-rights free agent (ERFA) with the Chiefs in 2019, meaning one more year of club control.
The situation the Chiefs find themselves in came about because of the scouting of special teams coordinator Dave Toub and the willingness of general manager Brett Veach to snag him off the Panthers’ practice squad.
As Butker knows all too well, you can go from the practice squad to the starting lineup in a flash in the NFL.
“I’d say prepare like you’re going to play on Sunday,” Butker said, when asked what advice he’d give to any league practice squad player. “That’s what I was doing when I was with the Panthers for four weeks. I knew I wasn’t going to play on Sunday with the Panthers, but I was preparing as if I was, and then when I got the call from the Chiefs, it was like, OK. I’ve been preparing well these past four weeks and then I can prove myself on the big stage on Sunday.”