Traveling kicker Wright embracing latest shot with Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Matthew Wright is a pragmatist. It's the engineer in him.

The former aerospace engineer major spent three years trying to chase a spot on an NFL roster while keeping a regular 9-to-5 gig with Lockheed Martin in Florida.

It made sense: He could work remotely and get a steady paycheck, something that's hardly a guarantee in the fickle job market for NFL kickers.

A year ago, Wright put in his two weeks. A nearly full season in Jacksonville offered him a bit of financial flexibility. And the results — he made 21 of 24 field goals and 13 of 15 extra points for the Jaguars — offered tangible proof he could make it in the league.

And there was one other thing.

“(Being an NFL kicker) is definitely more fun," Wright said Friday on the eve of his second go-round with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers signed Wright off Kansas City's practice squad this week with starter Chris Boswell nursing a nagging groin injury that sent him to injured reserve for at least four weeks.

Wright made his NFL debut with the Steelers in 2020, making all 11 of his kicks (four field goals, seven extra points) while Boswell dealt with a handful of injuries.

His return to Pittsburgh marks his fifth different NFL stop. After the first time with the Steelers, there was a brief appearance in training camp with Detroit in 2021 then the extended run with Jacksonville last year.

The Jaguars waived Wright in May. He now finds himself essentially waiting by the phone, hoping it will ring. It did earlier this season when Kansas City signed him to fill in for injured Harrison Butker in a pair of Chiefs' victories.

Butker returned and Kansas City moved Wright to the practice squad, which led to a fair amount of living out of a suitcase while his Wright's wife remained in Jacksonville. He'll be carrying that suitcase at least a few more weeks, which is totally fine with Wright.

If Wright is seeking inspiration on how being an itinerant kicker can eventually lead to long-term employment, he need only look across the locker room to Boswell, who tried out for the Steelers in the middle of a downpour in the fall of 2015.

Seven years later, Boswell is the second-highest-paid kicker in the league behind Baltimore's Justin Tucker and has job security. He'll be the starter whenever he's healthy no matter how well Wright may do. That fact has helped ease what can be a somewhat uncomfortable dynamic in some circumstances.

“Sometimes it can be weird ... there’s only one (starting) job, obviously,” Wright said. He noted that Boswell offered a couple of reminders to Wright of what it can be like to work in Acrisure Stadium, one of the toughest venues for kickers in the league.

Wright has been remarkably accurate during his career: He's made 28 of 32 (88%) of his field goal attempts and 28 of 30 (93%) of his extra points. Kickoffs were an obstacle that he seems to have figured out, because after converting only 15% of his kickoffs (7 of 46) into touchbacks in 2020 and 2021, he boomed 10 of his 13 kickoffs (77%) through the end zone during his time in Kansas City.

No matter how the next few weeks go, Wright will likely be looking for work again by December. That's just the nature of the business, one that Wright is drawn to while his engineering career sits on the back burner. At least for now.

NOTES: Star LB T.J. Watt confirmed he expects to be activated off injured reserve in time for kickoff on Sunday. Watt, the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, hasn't played since tearing his left pectoral in Week 1. “I'm very excited,” Watt said. “This has been a long time coming.”

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Will Graves, The Associated Press