Former Florida Gators punter Tommy Townsend had a feeling that he could end up with the Kansas City Chiefs before the 2020 NFL Draft even kicked off.
Well, even more than a feeling. Townsend had been talking to Chiefs' coaches for some time, and the staff made it clear that if Townsend wasn't selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, they'd come calling about joining the team as a free agent.
"I had spoken to them a few times, some coaches with the Chiefs a few days before the draft, and just talking if I would be interested in potentially coming there as a free agent if I did go undrafted," Townsend told AllGators in an interview on Tuesday. "The conversation kind of just carried on, as we got into the seventh round, the conversations started getting a lot more real."
Townsend, 23, went on to sign with the Chiefs after he and his agent looked into all of his options. A "handful" of other teams came calling for his talents, but the two decided that the Paris of the Plains provided the best opportunity.
On Monday, the NFL world found out what made Kansas City such an appealing spot for Townsend.
Just days after signing Townsend on a rather large deal for an undrafted punter, guaranteeing him $82,500 with a $7,500 signing bonus, the Chiefs released 15-year starting punter Dustin Colquitt. Colquitt, a two-time Pro Bowler, didn't appear to be losing much juice in his game, hovering just barely below his career average in punt distance at 44.3 yards on 48 attempts in 2019.
Kansas City was just ready for a fresh leg, and zeroed in on Florida's two-year starter.
"It's definitely a dream come true, just to get an opportunity to play in the NFL and get the opportunity to play with an amazing organization like the Kansas City Chiefs, defending Super Bowl champions," said Townsend. "I mean, I couldn't be more excited."
Townsend acknowledged that, given Colquitt's release, he has one of if not the best opportunity of any punter in the 2020 NFL Draft process. While that's correct, in reality, he arguably has as great of an opportunity of any undrafted free agent in recent memory.
You would be hard-pressed to find a team that's cut a long-term starter in favor of an undrafted free agent before that player even touches down in their new city. That simply doesn't happen in the NFL, or in any sport, or in any job field for that matter.
Undrafted prospects typically always face an uphill battle to even make a team's practice squad, much less a 53-man roster - a battle in which former Gators wide receiver Josh Hammond, defensive tackle Adam Shuler, and linebacker David Reese II will face in Jacksonville, Arizona, and Carolina this preseason, respectively.
Townsend plans to approach training camp and the preseason - whenever those events will kick off as a cloud of uncertainty covers fall sports seasons amidst the coronavirus pandemic - with the same mentality as the others. He has a vote of confidence from his new team, but he doesn't want to look at it that way. He will still have to compete with second-year punter Tyler Newsome, who has yet to appear in an NFL game after spending previous time with the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I just have to go out and do my job and I have to perform at a high level. Nothing else really matters if I don't do that," Townsend proclaimed.
"So my primary focus is just to go out and perform the best I can and win the job, earn the position and earn the confidence with the other specialists that are there, to have a good operation for punts, field goals, everything."
The former Gators punter posted the same career average of yards per punt in two years at Florida as Colquitt recorded during his time with the Chiefs, at 44.8 per attempt. On paper, Townsend has recorded a career-long of 71 yards with a roll, which equated to the high 50s or low 60s in the air, but on the practice field he has kept the ball in the air up into the low 70s before.
Townsend is also known for his multiple fake punts, in which he tucked the ball and ran to convert two first downs with Florida. Kansas City hasn't talked about that aspect of his game with him, yet, but perhaps that trend will continue as the Chiefs are known for their prolific offense.
Townsend can contribute on that front, and wants Chiefs fans to know that they're getting a competitor in their new punter.
"I approach punting with a completely different mindset than any other punter in the league and any other punter in college. I have a very aggressive mindset, I think I am more of a dog," said Townsend.
"It just comes natural to me from playing safety in high school, I've always been extremely competitive. I don't back down from competition, I'm always looking to get better and take down the guys that are in front of me."