After more than three decades of stability at the kicker, the Detroit Lions finally have to put some thought into the position heading into the 2013 season.
It’s amazing really. There are Lions fans out there that are well into their 30s that have no memory of anyone other than Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson as the team’s primary kicker. The Lions have been known for being loyal to a fault, but when it comes to their kickers’ longevity, it’s all about results.
That’s part of the reason Jason Hanson’s retirement was met with some surprise. He may have been the league’s oldest player, but he was still one of the game’s most reliable kickers and showed no evidence of declining skills. But alas, Hanson didn’t want to put his injured heel through another season of pain and decided to call it a career. You can’t blame him for that and as Lions fans we should offer nothing but heartfelt congratulations on a brilliant career.
Now it is time to face reality – a reality that in the NFL, stability at the kicker position is not the norm. The Lions have quickly moved on from Hanson by signing free agent kicker David Akers, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. At 38, he won’t be counted on as the Lions kicker for the next decade. In fact, should we even be confident that he will really be the Lions kicker when the regular season kicks off?
It would be reasonable for the Lions to have signed Akers with that expectation, but they would also be wise to prepare a contingency beyond a token training camp kicker. After all, Akers wouldn’t be available if the 49ers still had confidence in him. Hanson and Akers have combined for 36 seasons and the one Akers is coming off is the worst of the bunch in which he made just 69% of his field goal attempts.
And that percentage isn’t tilted by results from long range. Akers missed from inside 30 yards, twice from 30-39 yards and was just 9 of 19 from more than 40 yards out. Think about how much disdain there has been in recent years when the Lions settled for field goals then compare that to the reaction when a drive stalls and the kicker misses a chip shot. Not pretty.
In Akers the Lions get a veteran kicker with a solid track record but is in need of a bounce-back year. There is reason to believe he can considering his amazing consistency prior to 2012 and it is possible he was dealing with a pelvis injury last season despite not missing any games. Akers had minor surgery to correct the issue last month. A clean bill of health and a change of scenery might be all Akers needs to finish his career strong. That’s likely what the Lions are thinking – at least enough to sign him to a deal.
But with Hanson the questions would have ended with the drying of the ink on a new contract. That isn’t the case with Akers and we shouldn’t rule out the possibility the Lions now start taking a closer look at this year’s crop of kicker prospects. Maybe they will find an option they like better than David Akers.