Roberto Aguayo had to know he was up against it.
The writing was on the wall way back in March, when the Bucs signed veteran kicker Nick Folk to a contract that included $750,000 guaranteed. That was the moment Aguayo ran out of rope, just 323 days after Tampa Bay left the football cognoscenti scratching its head by trading up to draft a kicker in the second round.
Hearing Folk tell local radio stations “he had a family to feed” was enough of a challenge. One can only imagine what was running through Aguayo’s already fragile psyche when he learned his team had agreed to be the subject of the 12th season of Hard Knocks.
You can’t blame the Bucs, of course. They fancy themselves an NFC contender and needed a backup plan if Aguayo continued to underperform. But how could you not feel for the kid as Bucs defensive tackle Chris Baker peppered Aguayo with taunts in practice, a stressful scene captured in Tuesday night’s Hard Knocks.
“Here we go! I’m calling it. Wide left! Wide left! Wide left!” Baker predicts standing just feet from Aguayo. He was wrong. Aguayo pushed it to the right.
In fairness to Baker, the taunts were directed at both Aguayo and Folk during a shaky practice for both kickers. But one can imagine Folk has dealt with heckles like that and far worse during a successful dozen years in the NFL. This drama has always been about Aguayo, and you could see him crack.
“No one really talks about you when you make your kicks,” Aguayo, looking all of about 15 years old, says in one confessional. “I feel like it’s more talked about when you don’t do as well, but I think that just comes with the position. The criticism is always going to be there, we just gotta let it go in one ear and out the other.”
Aguayo was playing scared, and even the kicker — shoot, especially the kicker — can’t survive like that. When he missed two kick, including an extra point, in the preseason opener, it was all over.
We’ve seen episodes of this series where the coach and general manager agonize over a roster cut. This was not one of those cases. General manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter both knew what had to be done.
“It’s just such a bigger mistake to keep holding onto it,” Licht said. Added Koetter: “We gotta get behind a guy. We gotta … I just think Folk’s our f—–‘ kicker.”
That’s when we see Aguayo being led to the office to receive the news he had to know was coming. He takes it well. He almost seems … relieved. This was a bad marriage from the beginning and now both sides were getting a fresh start. No wonder Aguayo hit 11 straight kicks in his first practice with the Bears this week. He’s no longer someone’s burden; instead just another free-agent kicker trying to win the game of musical chairs.
You’d probably start splitting the uprights, too.
1. Aguayo’s release was a significant NFL news story, which is something akin to a Halley’s Comet sighting for Hard Knocks. The last time I can remember the show and news colliding like this was 2012, when Chad Johnson’s release following a domestic violence arrest served as an episode centerpiece. Johnson’s eyes finding the stationary camera near the ceiling as he entered Joe Philbin’s office is an indelible Hard Knocks moment.
2. I would definitely watch a buddy comedy starring Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. A Bad Boys reboot perhaps, with Evans in the Will Smith role and D-Jax channeling his inner Martin Lawrence. Meanwhile, I’m totally Team Evans on the LeBron debate. Best exchange — Jackson: “He had to go somewhere else to get his championships.” Evans: “You about to do that.”
3. And here I was thinking I had another three weeks to wait before getting a good gander at Ed Hochuli’s ageless pipes. A surprise cameo from NFL’s most jacked official was a real treat and fine motivation to get back into the gym.
4. Hochuli was at Bucs camp, at least in part, to clarify what was permissible under the league’s newly relaxed rules on player celebrations. That led to Gerald McCoy — in a performance that will surely garner Hard Knocks MVP votes — workshopping a series of uncomfortably erotic victory dances. “The face is everything,” McCoy explains, and he’s absolutely right.
5. Speaking of McCoy, we enjoyed the trip to his man cave, which outed him as the biggest Batman stan in America. There was also this confession: “The ultimate, ultimate goal is to get punched by a superhero. I want to get punched by a superhero. Hard. Extremely hard.”
6. A Miko Grimes appearance on Hard Knocks was such a certainty that Vegas took it off the board. Sure enough, the outspoken and unwaveringly supportive wife of Brent Grimes got her star turn. “I’m always worried about the big plays,” she explained as Brent sat to her left and stared straight ahead. “The little seven-, five-yard slants, that little bulls—. I don’t give a f— about those catches.” After this silly Mayweather-McGregor fight is over with, let’s move to the main event: Miko and Brent Grimes vs. Jackie and Doug Christie in the steel cage.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ NFL Films (@NFLFilms)
August 16, 2017
7. After Ryan Griffin — one of three quarterbacks on the roster vying for the backup job — suffers a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, Jameis Winston is none too happy to see several reserve linemen engaged in light-hearted banter on the bench. “I’m happy y’all having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder. But keep having fun,” Winston barks before walking off. It reminded me of being and kid and goofing around with my little brother at church, blissfully unaware mom was watching us misbehave the entire time. Dire consequences.
8. Rookie linebacker/Designated Hard Knocks Lovable Undrafted Underdog Riley Bullough is not down with his Joe Dirt nickname — and neither is his mom. “Tell your teammate you look more like Fabio.” DON’T DO THAT, RILEY.
9. “Hey Fitz, how was it playing against Bart Starr?”
10. Loving this end-of-episode trend of Game of Thrones water cooler conversations. (Talk about ideal cross-program promotion!) Center Ali Marpet is an episode or two behind and his teammates can’t resist the opportunity to make him miserable over it. “Yo, yo, stop, stop, stop,” Marpet yelps as linemate Joe Hawley pantomimes a dragon flapping its scaly wings. “That’s even ruining it! Too much! Too much info!”
11. Lastly, the updated Hard Knocks playlist. Not included: An original Hard Knocks song called “Don’t Accept” that premiered in Episode 2. If it lands on streaming platforms, we’ll get our curate on.