Should he stay or should he go?
For the 49ers, kicker David Akers will be a costly commodity for the 2013 season.
The 38-year-old veteran, who just finished his 13th NFL season, is due to make about $3.6 million in 2013, with about $3 million counting against the salary cap.
If Akers were coming off a terrific season, there probably would be no question. Akers would be a keeper.
But at this point, the Niners don’t know if Akers will return to his All-Pro status of 2011 or remain the out-of-sync, inconsistent performer he was for much of 2012.
Though the 49ers are projected to be a bit more than $2 million under their salary cap at the moment, $3 million dedicated to an unreliable kicker may not be a sound investment.
On the other hand, if the 49ers are confident Akers’ problems were the result of injury, they may be willing to give him another chance or try to negotiate a deal to lower his impact on the salary cap.
After all, Akers’ range is still among the best in the NFL – his record-tying 63-yard field goal this past season is testament to that – and his kickoffs regularly go deep in the end zone. As he showed in 2011, when he made an NFL-record 44 field goals (including nine from 50 or more yards), he can be a terrific offensive asset.
Yet this past season Akers’ aim went south.
His 69 percent accuracy rate on field goals (29-of-42) ranked 30th in the league and he tied for eighth for field goals made. And from 40 yards or beyond he was just 9-of-19 during the regular season.
We don’t know what kickers general manager Trent Baalke may have his eyes on, but he could bring in a free agent or draft a rookie to give him the same production – or better – at a much lower price.
The Vikings, for instance, drafted Blair Walsh of Georgia in the sixth round this past April, and Walsh led the NFL in field goals made (35), had a field-goal percentage of 92.1 and was 10-for-10 from 50 or more yards. He missed just three field-goal attempts the entire season.
This April’s draft offers No. 1 prospect Caleb Sturgis of Florida, who made 23-of-27 kicks this season and 22-of-26 in 2011. Other kickers of note: Dustin Hopkins of Florida State, Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State (who also punts) and Brett Maher of Nebraska.
Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson, whom the team has given the franchise tag the past two seasons, might also hit the free-agent market this offseason. He’d be a more expensive choice, but he was 29-of-31 this past season and 7-of-7 from 50 or more yards.
The bottom line: the 49ers might want to give Akers another chance, but not at his current salary.
In January, longtime NFL kicking coach and consultant Gary Zauner told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch that he believes a kicker as talented as Akers doesn’t go sour so quickly without reason.
“David Akers has been one of the all-time great kickers in the league,” Zauner said. “And he went from Pro Bowl to this. Most guys that have been around as long as he has, it’s got to more than an injury thing than anything else.”