Kicker Wil Lutz was one of the best kickers in the NFL in 2018, and his timing couldn’t have been much better.
Lutz was a restricted free agent this year, and after his marvelous season, he earned a five-year deal from the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday.
The Saints announced the move on Wednesday morning when Lutz signed his new contract, which his agent John Perla Jr. claims will be a record deal for a kicker.
It’s unclear if the record will be the most total cash, guarantees or average annual value, but it’s safe to assume Lutz’s contract will pay him in excess of $4 million per year and potentially as much as $5 million per year. Currently, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould is the highest paid kicker per year at $4.97 million on the franchise tag for 2019, but the highest contract value is $20 million for five years for Titans kicker Ryan Succop.
Details of the contract will eventually emerge, but either way, Lutz has done well to earn this deal.
Lutz, 24, went undrafted out of Georgia State in 2016. He began his career with the Baltimore Ravens, but they cut him after the preseason that year because they already top-notch kicker Justin Tucker.
The Saints spent the 2016 offseason seeking a kicker. Kai Forbath and Connor Barth competed for the job in training camp and the preseason, but the Saints cut them both before the regular season. Then, Lutz came to New Orleans for a workout, and the Saints signed him five days before Week 1.
Lutz performed admirably as a rookie, making 28 of 34 field goals (82.4 percent) and 49 of 50 extra points. He improved in 2017, making 31 of 36 field goals (86.1 percent) and 47 of 50 extra points.
Then, in 2018, Lutz took another step forward to become one of the best kickers in the league, making 28 of 30 field goals (93.3 percent) and 52 of 53 extra points. Lutz’s field-goal percentage ranked sixth in the NFL last season and was the best in Saints history for a kicker who played in more than eight games. He also made 26 consecutive field goals, breaking Morten Andersen’s franchise record of 25.
Because Lutz was a restricted free agent, the Saints could have ensured that he stay in New Orleans for 2019 by giving him the second-round tender, a one-year deal worth $3.1 million that would have forced another team to send New Orleans a second-round pick in order to sign the kicker. Instead, the Saints rewarded Lutz with a long-term deal and will have a young, promising kicker around for years to come.
Marques Colston and Reggie Bush traveled divergent paths to the New Orleans Saints, arriving in the 2006 NFL Draft with vastly different pedigrees and expectations.
The Heisman Trophy winner out of traditional West Coast superpower Southern Cal, Bush was one of the most celebrated and decorated players in college football history and the Saints gleefully selected him with the second overall pick in that year’s NFL Draft.
Colston, meanwhile, was a complete unknown out of Hofstra, a tiny FCS school with such a meager football profile it disbanded the program in 2009. When the Saints called Colston’s name with the fourth-to-last pick in the 255-player draft, even hard-core fans were wondering “Who Dat?”
Despite their disparate paths, Bush and Colston each enjoyed spectacularly successful careers in New Orleans and left the Saints as Super Bowl champions and beloved heroes.
And 13 years after they arrived as bookend members of the famed 2006 draft class, the pair of offensive playmakers will enter the Saints Hall of Fame together this fall as members of the Hall’s Class of 2019.
“I’m just truly humbled to be on this stage and to be a part of this Hall of Fame with so many other great players,” Colston said before an overflow crowd at the Saints training facility that included, among others, Saints owner Gayle Benson and assistant coaches Pete Carmichael and Curtis Johnson. “When you come into the league as a seventh-round pick something like this isn’t really on your radar.”
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco joined the star-studded class as the recipient of the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award for her off-field contributions to the club, spearheading the post-Katrina renovation of the Superdome.
The induction ceremony for the Class of 2019 will take place during the weekend of Oct. 25-27, when the Saints play host to the Arizona Cardinals at the Superdome.
“This is extraordinary,” said Blanco, who is battling ocular melanoma, a rare form of incurable eye cancer. “I’m very proud to feel like I’m a family member of the Saints now.”
Colston and Bush were the bookend selections of Coach Sean Payton’s first draft class and formed the core of the club’s eventual Super Bowl championship team in 2009. The eight-man class featured six players that would enjoy 10-plus-year careers in the NFL: Bush; Colston; Roman Harper; Jahri Evans; Rob Ninkovich; and Zach Strief.
“That draft class became so necessary to achieve what we wanted to achieve,” Payton said. “They were the pillars essentially to what we were going to build.”
In 10 seasons with the Saints, Colston set club records for career receptions (711), yards (9,759) and touchdowns (72). His 28 100-yard receiving games are tied for first in club history. All 72 of his touchdowns came on passes from Drew Brees, making the duo the sixth-most prolific combination in scoring pass plays in NFL history.
“He had excellent hands,” Payton said of Colston. “The consistency. The professionalism. You knew exactly what you were going to get from him every day.”
Bush, meanwhile, was one of the most dynamic big-play threats in franchise history. During his five seasons with the Saints from 2006 to 2010, he recorded 4,982 all-purpose yards and scored 33 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 294 passes for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned five punts for touchdowns, including an 83-yarder to seal a 45-14 win against Arizona in the 2009 NFC divisional playoffs.
“That Super Bowl season was just an amazing run and an amazing time for the city,” Bush said. “New Orleans is home away from home for me. I couldn’t be happier to go into the Saints Hall of Fame with Colston.”
Blanco, 78, served as the state’s first and only female governor from 2004 to 2008. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she lobbied the state legislature to approve funding for repairs to the stadium and helped fast-track the construction process, allowing the team to return to its home stadium for the 2006 season. The lobby of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was named in her honor during a Jan. 13 ceremony before the Saints’ NFC divisional playoff game against Philadelphia.
In 2011, Blanco was diagnosed with eye cancer that recently spread to her liver. She received hospice care in her Lafayette home in April but has felt well enough in recent weeks to start traveling again.
“This is a highlight of my life, the last thing that I would ever have imagined,” Blanco said. “This is quite a memory marker for us, for me and my family. I do have a lot of challenges ahead of me, but I’m going to plan to be here in October.”