Lions expected to sign UFL kicker

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The NFL interest in UFL kicker Jake Bates has been no secret over the past several weeks. Bates has been taking the football world by storm in his season with the UFL’s Michigan Panthers out of Detroit. Now, it seems like he’ll get a chance to play for the city’s NFL team as Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 reports that the Lions are expected to add the big leg to their roster.

Bates signed with the Texans last year after going undrafted but was waived just prior to the preseason. This wasn’t extremely surprising as Bates didn’t kick any field goals in college. During his time at Texas State and Arkansas, Bates was utilized singularly on kickoffs, using leg strength gained in two seasons of college soccer at Central Arkansas. Finding his place in the UFL, though, Bates has taken the football world by storm.

Bates started off the season extremely hot, making 15 of 18 field-goal attempts, before eventually cooling off to end the season going 21 for 28 on field goals. While the initial accuracy was admirable, what really made an impression was his leg strength. Of his seven misses, five were from over 50 yards, yet he still ended the season 7-for-12 from long distance. Of those seven makes from 50-plus yards, three of those were from 60 yards or further.

The young kicker doesn’t shy away from the spotlight either. Two of his makes have been game-winners, including a career-long 64-yarder to open the season. His 64-yard make is second to only Justin Tucker‘s 66-yarder in Detroit’s stadium. He did miss a 53-yard game-winning attempt in the team’s regular-season finale, though.

Bates previously received interest from a few NFL teams, but because of his contract with the UFL squad, he was unable to sign with anyone until the team’s season came to an end. With Bates’ Panthers losing to the Birmingham Stallions last weekend, the window will soon open for Bates to sign. Wilson reports that any official deal won’t be signed until Tuesday of next week. Aside from the Lions, Bates recently visited the Packers and Commanders, per Wilson. The Ravens were also listed as a team of interest, and Wilson notes two other teams showed interest, as well.

Whenever Bates does arrive in Detroit, he will be in competition with the Lions’ incumbent kicker Michael Badgley. Badgley took over late in the season for Riley Patterson, who served as the team’s kicker for 13 games last year. In replacement duty, Badgely went 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts, though he did miss two extra points. During the team’s run to the NFC Championship Game, Badgley was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals and 11 for 11 on extra points. Despite this consistency, Badgley was rarely tested in big moments. Throughout the playoffs, head coach Dan Campbell repeatedly opted to go for it in long field-goal scenarios.

The only other option currently on the roster is James Turner, an undrafted rookie from Michigan. A grad transfer for the Wolverines after four years at Louisville, Turner showed inconsistent production at the collegiate level. Turner missed eight field goals and two extra points in his sophomore season with the Cardinals. He never made more than 20 field goals in a season and only had a career-long of 50 yards, so he may not be the answer to Campbell’s hesitation from long distance.

That answer could come, though, in the form of Bates. With his first opportunity to placekick last year, Bates caught everyone’s attention with early accuracy, a strong leg, and a clutch ability in big moments. If he can carry that early success into his first NFL season, he should stand a solid chance at beating out Badgley and Turner for the job in 2024.

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