Was It a Mistake to Move On from David Akers?

Was It a Mistake to Move On from David Akers?

In the annals of the Philadelphia Eagles, never has a place kicker been so beloved as David Akers. He was certainly the best in franchise history, but for a specialist, the love fans have for Akers is almost unnatural. I mean, who buys the kicker's jersey?

Needless to say, it sparked a bit of an uproar when Andy Reid, pressed about the field goals Akers missed in a 21-16 playoff loss against the Packers in 2010, admitted, "We can all count. Those points would have helped." Fans worked themselves into a fervor when the front office drafted Alex Henery in the fourth round the following April, and removed the transition tag from Akers as soon as the lockout ended, making the Eagle of 12 years an unrestricted free agent.

All Akers went on to do with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 was lead the NFL in points, so that obviously worked out well, right?

It certainly feeds the perception that management made a foolish decision when they refused to extend Akers. While Akers made headlines with a historic season that garnered first-team All-Pro honors, Henery did seemingly little of note, and at times it appeared he was handled with kid gloves. For that matter, when the Birds and Niners went head-to-head in Week 4, Henery missed two chip-shot field goals that wound up costing his side the game.

Not a good way to make people forget about the other guy, even when the other guy misses a couple of kicks himself that day.

Then again, not much of a way to declare a winner, either. That and Akers' great year are what's fresh in everybody's minds, but it's such a shallow depiction of events.

For starters, the fact that Akers led the league in points isn't proof alone that it was a mistake for the Eagles to move on. While a kicker has to be fairly sure-footed to be on top, he also needs to have plenty of attempts, and the 49ers gave him more chances than anybody -- in fact, it was a record number. With 52 tries, Akers had 11 more than the next most-utilized place kicker, Washington's Graham Gano, and broke the all-time total by three.

Granted Akers converted on his tries, just not exactly at an extraordinary rate. His 84.6 field goal percentage ranked 17th in the NFL, which is still fine, but it tells us he didn't exactly make the most of all his opportunities. Sure, he made the most of his tries from inside of 40 yards, leading the league with 32, and knocking all but one of those down.

40 and beyond was another story. Only a handful of kickers were worse on field goals between 40-49 yards, where Akers ranked 30th with only 54% through the uprights. And while he was amazingly 7-for-9 from 50+, that was highly unusual, as he was below 50% for his entire tenure with the Birds.

None of which is meant to defame Akers, who is still a great kicker that anybody would love to have, and you can't deny his impact on San Francisco's successful run in 2011. However, as is often the case, there are more to the numbers than meets the eye.

That goes for more than statistics. The Eagles did make an effort to retain Akers, or at least lended that appearance when they tagged him at the conclusion of 2010, but he made it perfectly clear he wasn't happy with a one-year deal that would have paid him around $3 million. The numbers the front office were likely looking at though were Akers' age (then 36) and the years they were willing to give.

Rather than counting on negotiations with an aging kicker who was coming off an awful post-season performance (even with the understanding he was experiencing some hard times off the field), the Eagles saw an opportunity to snag the top kicker coming out of college, and used one of their 11 selections that year to choose Henery out of Nebraska.

While the San Fran game looms large, otherwise it hasn't worked out poorly for the Birds at all. Henery missed just one more kick in 27 tries all year, a 63-yard attempt in Week 2 against the Falcons. That works out to a higher percentage (88.9) than Akers by the way -- in addition to setting the rookie record for that mark -- plus he was better from 40 and beyond, too (83.3 to 65).

Of course, Henery isn't nearly as battle tested, and he'll have to show a lot more and in clutch situations before anybody puts supreme confidence in his abilities. That said, given the circumstances you can't blame the Eagles for trying to get younger at a position where they were dealing with an unhappy veteran. Somewhere down the road, Akers is going to decline. When that happens, if everything has worked according to plan, the Birds will be set.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see

Flyers-Avalanche 5 things: Final showing before trade deadline

Flyers-Avalanche 5 things: Final showing before trade deadline

Flyers (28-26-7) vs. Avalanche (17-40-3)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

A day before the NHL trade deadline, the Flyers welcome the hapless Colorado Avalanche to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Final hurrah?
Prior to Saturday's outdoor game in Pittsburgh, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall admitted his team's final two contests before deadline day could have some impact on decisions.

The Flyers lost to the Penguins at Heinz Field, 4-2, and now host the NHL's worst club in the Avalanche. It could be the final game before the Flyers look a bit different the remaining 20 contests of the regular season.

The Flyers enter Tuesday six points behind the Maple Leafs for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. At 63 points, they also trail the Islanders (68), Panthers (66) and Lightning (64), with the Sabres (62) and Devils (62) breathing down their necks.

With three expiring contracts on defense and young blueliners at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Hextall has pieces to sell and reasons to do it. Defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz are set to be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth can also hit the UFA market come July 1, as can role forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde.

The Flyers are clearly not in a win-now mode with the way things have gone recently, so dealing parts, clearing space and acquiring draft picks would certainly help expedite the road to contention.

2. Avoid an Avalanche
This really is a game that would be inexcusable for the Flyers to lose.

They have one last chance to make an impression on their GM.

They're in serious need of a win to keep postseason hopes flickering.

And they're on home ice against a team that has won six games over the last 2½ months.

"Everybody is frustrated right now," Claude Giroux said Monday. "We can't be pointing fingers.
 
"Everybody needs to be a little bit better and give a little more and go one game at a time here. [Tuesday], we're back in front of our fans. We've got to get this win, we know that. We've just got to keep at it."

The Avalanche are in the NHL cellar with 37 points. The next closest team is the Coyotes at 51 points. Colorado is dead last in goals per game (2.02) and goals allowed per game (3.30), and has also been interested in the Flyers as a trade partner, a source told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio.

3. Different defense
Del Zotto should get a chance to showcase himself Tuesday night.

That's because defenseman Brandon Manning will serve the first game of a two-game suspension handed down on Monday for his hit on Penguins forward Jake Guentzel during Saturday's loss.

Del Zotto, who will likely enter the lineup for Manning, has played just 32 games this season because of injury and healthy scratches. The 26-year-old also understands that trade rumors swirl this time of year.

"It happens every year," Del Zotto said last week. "It's not like it’s the first time. I've been traded before. It is what it is. It's a business.

"You realize that pretty early in your career. I understand where I'm at as far as my contract, being a UFA this summer."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Giroux has two goals in his last 26 games. However, he has six goals in nine career games against the Avalanche, who are giving them up in bunches this season. You'd have to think this is a game in which the captain could break out a bit.

Avalanche: Matt Duchene has been the subject of trade rumors and leads Colorado in goals with 16. The 26-year-old center has also played well against the Flyers in his career, posting seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine matchups.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is expected to start for the first time since Feb. 9. He's played just twice since Jan. 31, allowing eight combined goals in two losses. Mason is 16-17-6 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.

• Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard was scratched last Saturday because of a stiff neck. If he can't go, 27-year-old rookie Jeremy Smith will make his fourth career start.

• The Flyers have lost eight of their last 11 games.

• The Flyers have scored the NHL's fewest goals (68) since Dec. 5.