David Akers has struggled this season, and the 49ers are worried their shaky place-kicker won’t be reliable in the playoffs.
But Billy Cundiff – signed by the team Tuesday to compete with Akers for the job – also has a track record of unreliability and doesn’t have the range of Akers.
Now, Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh apparently will have an open competition between Akers and Cundiff for the kicking job over the next week or so, before San Francisco opens the playoffs on Saturday, Jan. 12, against an opponent that will be determined in the wild-card round this weekend.
In the end, it may come down to Harbaugh hoping he can raise Akers’ focus and accuracy during the tryout process, and see some improvement that will allow him to stay with him, because Cundiff’s history is one of inconsistency.
There’s no question that Akers has been less effective this season than he was in 2011, when he was amazingly consistent, making 44-of-52 field goals (84.6 percent), including 20 field goals longer than 40 yards.
This season, Akers has made just 69 percent of his tries, a career low, and he’s just 9-of-19 from 40 or more yards. In the regular-season finale against Arizona this past Sunday, Akers missed two more field goals, but also made two.
Yet Cundiff, who was released by the Redskins earlier this season, never has had the level of success that Akers has.
This season, Cundiff was 7-of-12 on field goals with Washington. In stints with Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington, Cundiff is 139-of-184 (75.5 percent) and has made just 21 kicks of 50 yards or longer (including just one of his past nine tries).
He lost his job in Baltimore after the 2011 season, when he missed a potentially game-tying 32-yard kick in the last seconds of the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
By comparison, Akers has made 81 percent of his career field-goal attempts and has a much stronger leg. In the 2012 opener, he made an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal against the Packers.
Still, Harbaugh and his staff believe they have to do something. Akers’ misses this year in the second half of the season have been costly.
In meeting with the media earlier this week, Harbaugh said if another kicker were brought in, there would be a competition for the job.
“If we had two on the roster at the same time, then they can kick in practice,” Harbaugh said Monday. “And that’s an option. That’s a possibility. I think there are three options. We go forward with David. We bring in a new kicker. Or, we have two and let them compete for the job. We’ll make that decision as we go.”
In going with option No. 3, the 49ers signed Cundiff and released reserve linebacker Eric Bakhtiari.
Now, the 49ers will see what they get: a more focused Akers, who suddenly is able to find his stroke again? Or a more reliable Cundiff, who’s able to outperform Akers in competition, giving the 49ers some peace of mind as they begin their playoff quest.
“He’s thrilled with the opportunity to be in a position to help the team in any way he can this postseason,” Cundiff’s agent, Paul Sheehy, told the Associated Press. “It’s a great opportunity, with a great organization.”