Ravens turn their attention to kickers

With three veterans available, Cundiff could have some competition

March 29, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

After upgrading the wide receiver position in the early part of free agency, the Ravens are looking to solidify the other glaring weakness of last year's team -- the kicking game.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he wouldn't rule out signing a free-agent kicker before the draft who would compete with Billy Cundiff, a restricted free agent. The three kickers generating the most interest around the NFL are: Shayne Graham, Neil Rackers and Jay Feely.

It appears as if the Ravens are leaning toward Graham, who sat down with Harbaugh, owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome for more than an hour at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. The team also contacted Rackers, but the sides have yet to meet.

The Ravens haven't talked with Matt Stover, their longtime kicker who helped the Indianapolis Colts win the AFC title.

"We're going to bring the very best kicker on board that we can," Harbaugh said. "It's not that we don't think Billy can do it, because I'm confident that Billy can do it. We're not averse to bringing in competition and letting guys battle it out. If we're able to do that, we're going to do that."

When the Ravens didn't re-sign Stover last season, they let two young kickers -- Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano -- fight for the job. Hauschka eventually secured the spot in the preseason, but he struggled through the first half of the regular season.

The Ravens released Hauschka, signing Cundiff on Nov. 18. He converted 21 of 26 field-goal tries (80ƒ|percent) for the Ravens.

It'll be interesting to see who is going against Cundiff this year. The kicking situation is looking like the NFL's version of musical chairs.

There is a slight chance the Cincinnati Bengals could re-sign Graham, but they seem content with recently signed Dave Rayner and a rookie battling for the job. The Arizona Cardinals have talked about retaining Rackers, but they recently brought in Feely for a visit. And the New York Jets could bring back Feely, but they don't need to do so because they already signed Nick Folk.

"The market is starting to open up a little bit now that the big names have signed," agent David Dunn, who represents Graham, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Here's a look at three free-agent kickers:

Shayne Graham Age: 32 Career field-goal pct.: .852 2009 team: Cincinnati Bengals 2009 salary: $2.4 million Pro Bowl: One (2005) Reason to sign: He is the fourth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. His success rate with the Bengals (86.7 percent) is the best in team history. Graham has plenty of leg strength to convert from beyond 50 yards, and he's an asset on kickoffs (37 touchbacks in the past four seasons). Plus, he hit seven field goals in a 2007 game at M&T Bank Stadium, which was the second-most in NFL history. Reason to worry: The Bengals put the franchise tag on Graham, who didn't live up to top-five kicker money. He made 23 of 28 field goals (some of the problems can be attributed to long-snapper troubles) and slipped in the playoffs. In the 24-14 home playoff loss to the New York Jets, Graham missed from 35 and 28 yards out.

Neil Rackers Age: 33 Career field-goal pct.: .782 2009 team: Arizona Cardinals 2009 salary: $1.1 million Pro Bowl: One (2005) Reason to sign: He has a booming leg, kicking 34 field goals of 50 yards or more in the past six seasons. His accuracy has steadily improved throughout his career. Rackers had only four misses the past two seasons, converting 91.1 percent of his kicks. A weapon on kickoffs, he has averaged 18 touchbacks the past six seasons. Reason to worry: Rackers missed only one field-goal attempt in the regular season, but he didn't help his status in free agency by failing to convert a 34-yard field-goal try in the final seconds of regulation of a tie game against the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the NFC playoffs. He struggled with a groin injury at the end of the season, which forced him to miss two games. According to the Arizona Republic, there was a feeling among the Cardinals front office that Rackers should have been more forthcoming about the pain he was enduring.

Jay Feely Age: 33 Career field-goal pct.: .816 2009 team: New York Jets 2009 salary: $1.4 million Pro Bowls: None Reason to sign: Feely set a Jets record by converting 24 straight field-goal tries (in 2008-2009). He has made at least 83 percent of his attempts since 2005 and is 4-for-4 from beyond 50 yards the past three years. On kickoffs, he has averaged 10ƒ|touchbacks the past eight seasons. Reason to worry: Three of Feely's six misses in the regular season came between 30 and 39 yards. He also had two huge misses--from 44 and 52 yards--in the Jets' AFC championship game loss to the Colts. Six of his kicks have been blocked in his nine-year career.

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