You really couldn't have found a more unlikable player on the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 2013 season than kicker Alex Henery.
After all, the Eagles lost their home playoff game to the New Orleans Saints by two points. Henery missed a 48-yard field goal with the game still scoreless in the second quarter. The loss marked the third time in the last four postseason losses for the Eagles in which a kicker played a major role in the loss.
In fairness, the previous two losses had nothing to do with Henery. David Akers missed two field goals in a 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 Wild Card Round, plus a field goal and an extra point in a 32-25 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFC championship. But still, it's always frustrating to lose a hard-fought, winnable football game because of a lousy kicker.
Henery's 2013 season was certainly a forgettable one. The third-year kicker missed five field goals, ranking him 23rd in the NFL in field-goal percentage. But he was also way worse than his numbers. The Eagles consistently turned down opportunities for long field-goal attempts because they clearly didn't trust Henery's range.
I went through the game-by-game logs and found seven different situations where the Eagles turned down a field-goal attempt of 55 to 60 yards because they knew Henery lacked the range to make such a kick. The one time they did allow him to attempt a 60-yard field goal, he predictably missed it.
It's not enough, though, that Henery a) lacked range for long field goals and b) missed too many of his short-range kicks. He was also one of the worst in the NFL on kickoffs.
Every fan remembers the brutal loss to the Minnesota Vikings, where Henery's consistent short kicks put the Eagles in bad field position time after time. But it was more than just one game. Henery finished 28th on the season in kickoff average, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and he was at his absolute worst late in the season.
So when you have a kicker who lacks the range to kick long field goals, misses too many short field goals and delivers way too many short kickoffs, you want to look for a replacement as soon as possible.
That's why the Eagles brought in Carey Spear, known to the fanbase as "Murderleg."
Spear, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt, connected on 81 percent of field goals during the final two seasons of his college career. But he came famous for his propensity for hard hits on kickoff returns, notably this massive hit on Cordarrelle Patterson during a 2012 game. (How ironic is it that Spear's biggest hit came against the guy who hurt the Eagles the most on kick returns in 2013?)
There's no denying that the Eagles need an upgrade over Henery. He hasn't lived up to his big potential as the NCAA's all-time leader in field-goal percentage or as a fourth-round draft pick.
I don't think anybody on the team would trust Henery on a 46-yard field goal with the game on the line. I certainly wouldn't. He's managed to play three seasons in the NFL without having to attempt a game-winner, or anything remotely close to it.
But I think Henery is going to have a big year in 2014. I really do. I wrote about this last week. Kickers are so inconsistent and field-goal percentages fluctuate so much that Henery could easily rebound with a career year in 2014. I'm not saying I think he will be a Pro Bowl player or even a top-five kicker.
But do I think the Eagles can and will survive with Alex Henery as their kicker in 2014? Yeah, I do.
People quickly forget that Henery set an all-time NFL record for rookie kickers by connecting on 88.9 percent of his field goals in 2011. He hit 22 straight field goals during the 2012 season, a franchise record. He's coming off a terrible year, but the first two years of his career were at least solid.
For those reasons, count me among the few who actually doesn't want Spear to win the starting kicking job. And I would be stunned if he beat out Henery. I really would.
Carey Spear is an unproven rookie who hasn't kicked particularly well so far at practice and doesn't have a big reputation (that is, as an actual kicker) from college. He was just the 14th-ranked kicker coming out of college, according to CBS Sports. Per Allen Rodriguez of Bird Breakdown, Spear is significantly worse than Henery on kickoffs too. There's really no reason to give Spear the job unless he thoroughly outplays Henery in camp, which is unlikely to happen.
I hope this little bit of offseason competition benefits Henery, because I don't think there's any realistic chance that Spear becomes the Eagles kicker in 2014. It'll be Henery kicking field goals and extra points for one of the league's highest-scoring offenses, not Carey Spear.