After the season David Akers had in 2012, the news of his potential release (via Adam Caplan of The Sideline View) should come as a surprise to no one. Akers was an atrocious 33-47 on field goals during 16 regular-season contests and three postseason games. By comparison, his 70.2 percent success rate was the second-worst percentage in the league behind Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers.
Not to mention Akers was the second highest paid kicker in the league, according to Spotrac. He carried a base salary of $3 million in 2012 and 2013, which obviously aided into the 49ers' reasoning behind cutting the 14-year veteran.
If Akers would have been able to put together a 2012 campaign that resembled his 2011 campaign, we may not be discussing his potential release. Unfortunately, offseason hernia surgery and a lack of confidence throughout the season seemingly factored into him playing his way out of San Francisco's future plans.
No official date for Akers' release has been set, but given the fact that free agency begins in eight days, one has to think they will want to get his contract off the books before then. His salary was not guaranteed for the 2013 season, so the only thing the 49ers owe him is a prorated bonus of $566,668. The $3 million in savings, coupled with the Alex Smith trade, has the 49ers cap number ($113,142,485 per OvertheCap.com) in tip-top shape for the start of free agency.
It's unlikely San Francisco will tie up a lot of money in the kicking position for the third year in a row for a couple of different reasons. They will need to effectively utilize and manage the almost $10 million in cap space that is available to them by re-signing a couple of key depth players on both sides of the ball. Moreover, they will have to plan for this year's incoming draft class and the possible re-upping of Dashon Goldson.
That in turn leaves the 49ers open to only a couple of options when it comes to finding a new kicker. The first, less appealing, route would be to sign a veteran free agent. The market isn't littered with big names this offseason, but there are more than a few kickers who have had success in the past.
Former Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson will most likely be the hottest kicking commodity on the open market. He has shown the ability to sustain success over the course of his 21-year career in the NFL despite being surrounded by inferior offensive and defensive talent at times. For his career, he has made 495 field goals, played in 327 games and scored 2,150 points.
Another name to throw in the hat when looking at veteran kickers is Phil Dawson of the Cleveland Browns. Like Hanson, Dawson has often been the most consistent and successful player on the Browns roster since arriving in 1999. Even at 38 years old, he seems to still be kicking the ball with boundless strength and accuracy.
And surprisingly enough, this past season proved to be his most accurate ever as he connected on 29 of 31 kicks. His season long was 53 yards and his 30 touch backs on kickoffs ranked him 16th overall by season's end. Dawson and Hanson's success just go to show that age shouldn't always be a deterrent, especially when it comes to a kicker.
Based on their past successes, however, there's no guarantee the Niners would be able to sign them to a team-friendly deal. And if that's the case, they will have to go the route of the NFL draft. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have 15 picks to choose from, so it's safe to say they shouldn't have a problem using one of their later round picks on a guy who can potentially come in and be a Day 1 starter.
The top-three kicking prospects in college football this year are Dustin Hopkins (Florida State), Caleb Sturgis (Florida) and Brett Maher (Nebraska), according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. However, he goes on to add that there is no Greg Zuerlein in this year's class, so it would be wise to not get your hopes up if you're hoping the 49ers draft someone like him.
That doesn't mean this year's class is full of bums, though. Hopkins was 25-of-30 on the year and even posted a four field goal game against Miami on October 20, 2012. His two career longs as a Seminole were from 52 and 55 yards away—not moon shots by any means, but with enough practice and development he could easily extend his range.
Sturgis performed similarly to Hopkins throughout the season, but blew scouts and NFL executives away at the East-West shrine game. Per WalterFootball.com: "He [Sturgis] was nailing kicks in the mid-50s with ease - straight down the middle. Sturgis had plenty of leg while showing a consistent motion to maintain accuracy."
Both kickers are projected to go between Round 4 and Round 6, making San Francisco's decision that much tougher. Do the 49ers go with a proven veteran who has been there before, or do they take one of top-two kickers in the draft?
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