With the NFL’s mandated cutdown day leaving dozens of players without jobs, teams around the league have the proverbial pick of the litter when it comes to trying to fill needs where other teams had a surplus. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a shaky-at-best situation at the kicker position. Since the departure of David Akers and the decade-plus of stability he brought to the team, the Eagles have been unable to replicate the dependent performance of the lefty. Alex Henery, whom the team drafted out of Nebraska, has gone from fair-to-bad since the Eagles plucked him in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft. His latest miss, a 31-yard try in the team’s preseason win against the Steelers, showed just how shot Henery’s confidence is. Much like closers in baseball or golfers who have lost their swing, confidence is as important as physical talent when it comes to being an NFL kicker. Considering Henery’s forte is supposed to be accuracy within 45 yards, last Thursday’s miss from 31 is troubling to say the least.
The Eagles brought in rookie Cody Parkey last week, but it’s tough to imagine a team with playoff aspirations is ready to depend on a kicker with such a limited showing in his first preseason. Parkey does have a tremendous leg, and could be considered for a kickoff specialist. Were that to be the case, it’s possible the team could hang on to Henery to serve as just a place kicker. Still, Henery’s performance this preseason (1/3 on FGs), would more likely prompt a search for a more dependable option.
Fortunately for the Eagles, there are a handful of desirable options who have either already been handed their walking papers or are involved in a competition that will end with a solid kicker on the open market. Henery could remain with the team and bring with him another year of frustration. If that is mercifully not the case, here are a few directions the team could go in.
Dustin Hopkins-23 (Former Team: Buffalo Bills)
The latest product from Florida State (aka Kicker U), Hopkins arrival on the waiver wire is more a result of bad luck than poor performance. Hopkins was a 6th round pick in the 2013 draft and was drawing rave reviews in training camp last season. Unfortunately, a groin injury prior to the start of the campaign landed Hopkins on injured reserve and the Bills brought in veteran Dan Carpenter to fill the void. Carpenter went on to perform extraordinarily for the Bills and earned himself an extension. Carpenter served as Buffalo’s primary option during the 2014 preseason and the writing was on the wall for Hopkins. Sure enough, he was on the team’s first round of cuts and finds himself without a job having never played an NFL game.
Despite the inexperience, many see Hopkins as a strong long-term option. He is young, has a big leg, and left Florida State as the school’s all-time leader in points (402). There’s a big difference between kicking in college and the NFL (see: Henery, Alex) but the 23-year-old Hopkins could be as attractive an option for the team if they hope to avoid a yearly re-visit to the position. Considering the regular season is almost upon us, the Eagles would not have time to insert Hopkins into a competition. If he does end up in Philadelphia, be prepared for him to be the week one starter.
Brandon McManus-23 / Josh Brown-35 (Current Team: New York Giants)
The kicking battle between McManus, a Temple product, and the veteran Josh Brown has remained fairly heated throughout training camp. A recent blunder on a kickoff by McManus in the Giants most recent preseason game may have ultimately sealed the fate of the rookie from Hatfield. Never the less, both participants have impressed to this point and have presented a difficult decision to head coach Tom Coughlin and a front office trying to get the most out of an aging nucleus. Brown has always been a dependable option and still has enough leg to make kicks from 50+ yards on occasion. Meanwhile, McManus presents a live leg and the ability to handle place-kicking and kickoff duties. Though the two players are at polar opposite ends of their careers, either one would be looked at as an upgrade over Henery.
Shayne Graham-36 / Derek Dimke-24 (Current Team: New Orleans Saints)
Another battle of youth vs. experience at the kicker position is happening in New Orleans. Dimke, the product of Illinois, has put together and extremely strong camp and preseason and looks poised to unseat the journeyman Graham from the top option. This would be a surprising route for the Eagles to take, unless things got to a point where all better options were scooped up by other teams. Unless Dimke is let go by New Orleans, I wouldn’t expect the team to take the route of the aging Graham.
Rob Bironas, David Akers, Jay Feely, Rian Lindell-Old
These players are lumped into a group, as they have found themselves without a job for the duration of camp, save for Feely who was just cut by the Cardinals. All of these veteran kickers once held down prominent roles in the league for an extended stretch of time, only to fade into the depths of free agency in recent years. Something tells me the Eagles organization would prefer an option that could handle most, if not all of their kicking duties for now and the future. Because of this, I find it difficult to see them taking a player whose best days are behind him. Sorry, Akers fans.