NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel insists signing Stephen Gostkowski is all about what the three-time Super Bowl champion can do for the team this season, not about the former New England Patriots kicker's ties to Vrabel or Titans general manager Jon Robinson.
Vrabel was a teammate of Gostkowski for the kicker's first three seasons in New England, while Robinson worked in the Patriots' scouting department from 2002 to 2013. Vrabel stressed a reunion was not the reason for changing kickers.
"I think that a lot is going to be made about the our history with Stephen," Vrabel said. "But in the end, that doesn't really mean anything. It's a decision that we thought as a team would help solidify the position."
The Titans made the switch Thursday, agreeing to terms with the four-time Pro Bowler and waiving Greg Joseph. Gostkowski was not at practice later Thursday because he must go through the COVID-19 testing protocol.
A three-time All-Pro, with two of those selections to the first team, Gostkowski played 14 seasons with the Patriots, who drafted the Louisiana native and former Mississippi high school star out of the University of Memphis as a fourth-round selection in 2006.
He has made 374 of 428 field-goal attempts in his NFL career, with the success rate of 87.4% ranking fifth in league history.
The importance of having a healthy and successful kicker on the roster before the start of the season is a lesson the Titans learned only too well a year ago. They thought they would have veteran Ryan Succop ready for the opener after offseason surgery on his knee only to have to sign a replacement on Sept. 4.
That was the start of a dreadful season for Tennessee's kicking game as the Titans wound up with the NFL's worst field-goal unit as their first four kickers combined to connect on 44.4% (eight of 18) of their attempts. Joseph was the Titans' fifth kicker last season, and he made the only field goal he attempted — which came in the playoffs — and all of his extra-point tries.
Tennessee signed Tucker McCann as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri to compete with Joseph, but Joseph had been missing kicks in training camp, prompting the Titans not to wait until opening week to address the position this time around.
Tennessee opens its 2020 schedule Sept. 14 at Denver. The Titans-Broncos matchup, set for 10:20 p.m. EDT, is the second game of a Monday Night Football doubleheader and the final contest of the opening week of the NFL season.
"We've got some time before a game, and that's when we decided to do it," Vrabel said.
Gostkowski, whose career-long kick of 62 yards came in 2017, turned 36 in January. He left New England as the franchise's leading scorer with 1,775 points in 204 games. He's also second in NFL history with 205 postseason points, and the only players with more playoff games are former teammate Tom Brady (41), Adam Vinatieri (32) — the kicker he replaced in New England — and Jerry Rice (29). Gostkowski's six Super Bowl appearances are tied for second behind Brady, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.
Gostkowski missed a career-high four PATs last season after not missing more than three in any of his previous 13 NFL seasons. He was placed on injured reserve in October, underwent season-ending hip surgery and was released in late March.
Still, he impressed the Titans during his workout.
"Looked like the kickoffs were deep and in the position where (special teams coordinator) Craig (Aukerman) wanted them," Vrabel said. "I'm not going to try to make too much out of this. We had a workout, and we signed a player. And we'll try to get him in here and get him going when he passes through the protocol."