NFC West: David Akers
Osgood factor: San Francisco's special teams are much improved. That has helped the 49ers all season, and Sunday was no different. Special teams ace Kassim Osgood had a blocked punt in the first quarter, which led to a field goal. Had Osgood not blocked the punt, the 49ers may not have won this tight game. Osgood has been making plays all season, but this one was his biggest.
Dawson is on fire: Speaking of outstanding special teams play, kicker Phil Dawson continues to be one of the 49ers’ most vital players. He had four field goals Sunday, including the game winner with 26 seconds remaining in the game. Dawson has made 20 straight field goal attempts. He has been a major upgrade over David Akers.
Message sent: Niners guard Alex Boone said 49ers players told Seattle players after the game that they will see them in Seattle in the postseason. It could happen. If so, the 49ers will be confident based on this performance. Yes, the 49ers have been beaten by a combined score of 71-16 in the past two games in Seattle, but Sunday’s win shows San Francisco can still play with the Seahawks.
Dawson will head into the 49ers’ home game against the Rams on Sunday on a big roll. He has made 13 consecutive field goals, including seven in the past three games.
Dawson is giving the 49ers everything they were looking for when they signed him in the offseason. David Akers struggled last season, and the 49ers were looking for more consistency. After a fairly slow start -- he missed three of six attempts in the first three games -- Dawson has been his usual solid self. .
And during his streak Dawson has hit several long field goals; he is known for his accuracy on long attempts. His season long is a 55-yarder at New Orleans.
Feely connected from 22, 25, 40 and 53 yards in that game, accounting for all the Cardinals' points in a 12-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Feely is 37 years old. Carpenter is 27. Both had kickoff touchback rates of 46 percent last season even though Carpenter averaged nearly 2 additional yards per kickoff. The touchback rate was 47 percent for Carpenter (24 of 51) and 31 percent for Feely (5 of 16) in games played outdoors. The Cardinals are scheduled to play six games outdoors this season. They played five outdoors last season.
The chart compares 2012 field-goal accuracy by distance for Carpenter and other notable kickers with NFC West ties.
The San Francisco 49ers replaced David Akers with Phil Dawson. The Seattle Seahawks recently released Carson Wiggs, who had provided competition for incumbent Steven Hauschka. The St. Louis Rams are committed to Greg Zuerlein.
The veteran kicker could still face competition in training camp from a drafted rookie, rookie free agent or even from another veteran.
But with Hauschka under contract, every team in the NFC West has a kicking option on its roster.
The chart at right shows field-goal percentages over the past five years for veteran and rookie kickers. The percentages are similar. Some kickers face tougher circumstances based on variables such as distance, venue, weather and situations. But in looking at the percentages overall, teams might feel better about going young at the position.
The chart below shows 2012 field-goal percentages for current NFC West kickers Phil Dawson (San Francisco 49ers), Jay Feely (Arizona Cardinals), Greg Zuerlein (St. Louis Rams), Hauschka and David Akers, formerly of the 49ers.
Hauschka suffered an injury during the playoffs last season. The team signed Ryan Longwell on a short-term basis.
The chart below shows which NFC West unrestricted free agents have signed this offseason. The list does not include players who were released or otherwise did not qualify for UFA status.
Dawson has made 14 of 15 tries from 50-plus yards over the past two seasons. He has made 13 of 14 tries from 40 to 49 yards over that span.
Akers, possibly diminished after undergoing hernia surgery, made 9 of 19 tries from 40 yards or longer last season. The 49ers reaped savings under the salary cap by releasing him this offseason.
Dawson turned 38 in January. While his addition does not preclude the 49ers from using one of their league-high 14 draft choices to add competition at the position, Dawson would be a heavy favorite to emerge as the 49ers' kicker in 2013 based on his credentials.
Dawson ranked 25th in kickoff touchback rate (39 percent) last season, lower than Akers (46.0) and the NFL average (44.1). Weather could have been a factor some of the time. Dawson had 14 kickoffs when the listed temperature was below 40 degrees, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure ranked tied for third-most in the NFL behind Mason Crosby (25) and Josh Brown (17).
Dawson has made 9 of 10 field-goal tries over the past three seasons when the temperature was beneath 40. That included his lone attempt from 50-plus yards.
Brad Seely, the 49ers' special-teams coach, was with Dawson in Cleveland previously.
"I hear teams releasing players to stay/get under the cap, but what happens to the players contract?" David asks. "Does the contract disappear? Does the team releasing the player have to pay anything, ever, through the life of the original contract? If a player is guaranteed $25 million, but only got $10 million before being released, does the releasing team owe that player the $15 million that has not been paid?"
Sando: Good question, David, and your timing is appropriate.
First off, beware of the word "guaranteed" when reading media reports about players signing new contracts. Agents are the sources for most of these stories. They need to recruit clients. They benefit when media reports overstate contract terms. They will sometimes count first-year base salaries as "guaranteed" simply because they're convinced the team will not release the player before that salary is paid. Also, some money can be guaranteed against injury and/or skill, which matters if the player is released following an injury or when healthy enough to play.
If a team releases a player before paying part of that player's guaranteed salary or guaranteed bonus, the team still must pay that money. This doesn't happen very frequently, however. In most cases, the player has already received all guaranteed money by the time he's released. The remainder of the contract vanishes.
So, the three-year, $9 million deal Akers signed wound up being a two-year deal for $6 million, plus a relatively small amount earned through incentives.
The amount a player's contract counts against the salary cap in a given year represents base salary plus prorated portions of bonus money. Any bonuses paid for being on a team's roster ("roster bonuses") count in full during the year they are paid.
For Akers, who did not have a roster bonus this offseason, the salary-cap charge would have been $3.56 million in 2013 had he remained on the roster. That figure represented the $3 million in base salary plus a one-year share of that $1.7 million bonus. The $3 million salary came off the books when the 49ers released Akers. However, the one-third share of $1.7 million still counts because Akers received that money. As a result, his contract counts $556,668 against the salary cap in 2013 even though Akers isn't on the roster.
This is what teams refer to as "dead" money. Too much dead money kills a team's chances to compete. The amount San Francisco absorbed in Akers' release is manageable.
Sometimes we'll see players sign deals filled with large salaries in the final few years. These salaries allow the player to feel good about signing what sounds like an especially lucrative deal. However, the team can often avoid paying those inflated salaries by releasing the player before the money is due.
Signing bonuses and other guaranteed money provide protection for the player.
Seattle's Matt Flynn provides one example. While the Seahawks have cap room to carry Flynn's $5.25 million salary and $7.25 million cap number, those figures do not represent great value for a backup. Flynn has some security against release, however, because the $6 million signing bonus he received is counting $2 million against the cap in each of the three years of the deal. Flynn also has $2 million in 2013 base salary guaranteed.
So, if the Seahawks were to release Flynn, they would still be on the hook for that $2 million in guaranteed salary, which would count against their cap. They would also have to account under the cap for some of the $6 million in bonus money paid earlier. One-third of that $6 million counted against the 2012 cap. The remaining two-thirds would count against the 2013 cap if the Seahawks released him. That means Flynn's contract would count $6 million against the 2013 cap even if Seattle released him. The price for keeping Flynn on the roster is an additional $1.25 million in cap room -- not much in the bigger picture.
Rules do allow teams to defer bonus-related cap charges for one released player each offseason. In the case of Flynn, Seattle could push the $2 million in prorated bonus money for 2014 into the 2014 cap. Taking that route would reduce Flynn's cap charge from $6 million to $4 million in 2013 if the Seahawks released him now. But they would have to account for the remaining $2 million next year.
In St. Louis, meanwhile, the Rams realized $7 million in cap relief when Steven Jackson voided his contract. That figure represents the amount Jackson would have earned in base salary had he remained on the team. There is no prorated bonus money to contend with at this time because the Rams chose to absorb the scheduled 2013 hit last season. The $7 million salary was not guaranteed, so Jackson will not receive that money.
Arizona will almost surely seek 2013 cap relief from Kevin Kolb's contract. Kolb is scheduled to earn $9 million in salary. He's also scheduled to receive a $2 million roster bonus later this month. The team also must deal with $2 million in annual prorated bonus charges for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Releasing Kolb would clear from the books his $9 million salary and $2 million roster bonus. However, the team would have to account for $6 million in prorated bonus charges, either all at once or with $4 million deferred to next year.
Releasing Kolb could reduce his scheduled 2013 cap charge of $13.5 million to either $2 million or $6 million, depending upon how the Cardinals chose to proceed.
That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.
While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.
Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.
Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.
But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.
Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.
Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 field goal tries (69 percent) since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).
The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.
Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker for ranks of kickers and all free agents.
"The 49ers would like to thank David for his service, dedication and leadership over the past two years," general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement announcing Akers' release. "He is a true professional who represented himself and this organization with class. We wish him, and his family, all the best."
That's high praise from a GM following a kicker's two-year run with a team. As the 49ers noted, Akers led the NFL in scoring over the past two seasons, having set an NFL single-season record for field goals made (44) and attempted (52) in 2011.
Akers' kicking percentage plummeted this season for two reasons. One, the 49ers' improvement in the red zone gave Akers fewer easy chances. Two, Akers' accuracy suffered from longer ranges even though he tied the NFL record with a 63-yarder in Week 1.
Akers, 38, has earned Pro Bowl honors six times.
The chart compares Akers' field goal stats in 2012 to those for other NFC West kickers. He was last.
Akers' release leaves $566,668 in dead money on the 49ers' books, defined as salary-cap charges for players no longer on the roster. That figure represents one-third of the $1.7 million signing bonus San Francisco paid to Akers as part of a three-year deal in 2011. Akers will not receive the $3 million in salary he was scheduled to earn in 2013.
The 49ers are trimming salary as they seek to comply with the $123.9 million salary cap by the NFL deadline Tuesday. They've had quite a bit of money tied up in specialists. Punter Andy Lee's contract is scheduled to count more than $4 million against the cap in 2013.
The 49ers will be in the market for a kicker this offseason.
The facts: The San Francisco 49ers suffered a 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- The 49ers became the first team in Super Bowl history to have a 300-yard passer (Colin Kaepernick), 100-yard rusher (Frank Gore) and two 100-yard receivers (Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis).
- Kicker David Akers, beneficiary of a running-into-the-kicker penalty, made all three field-goal attempts after entering the game as a perceived liability. Akers trails only Adam Vinatieri for postseason points.
- Gore's 110 yards rushing set a 49ers Super Bowl record. Roger Craig once had 74 yards rushing in a 49ers Super Bowl. Gore's 33-yard run in the fourth quarter was one of the game's most pivotal plays.
- Davis' 104 yards receiving tied a Super Bowl record for tight ends. This was Davis' fourth career 100-yard receiving game in the postseason, tied with Keith Jackson for most in NFL history. Davis and Larry Fitzgerald are the only players in league history with four 100-yard receiving performances in their first five career postseason games.
- Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
- Cornerback Tarell Brown forced and recovered a key fumble from Ravens running back Ray Rice.
- The 49ers outscored the Ravens by a 25-6 margin after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.
- Kaepernick's 15-yard touchdown run was the longest by a quarterback in Super Bowl history.
- The 49ers held Rice and Bernard Pierce below 3.0 yards per rushing attempt.
- Ted Ginn Jr. had a 32-yard punt return to the Baltimore 20-yard line, setting up a two-play touchdown drive as the 49ers pulled within 28-20.
The San Francisco 49ers will have to decide whether they want Moss and several other older players to play for them in the future.
The 49ers have 10 players age 30 and older. The chart lists them by when their contracts expire. San Diego has a league-high 20 players age 30 and older. Miami has a league-low five. Arizona has 12, Seattle has nine and St. Louis has six. Those figures count players finishing the season on injured reserve.
Three of the 49ers' 10 oldest players are specialists. Three others -- Carlos Rogers, Jonathan Goodwin and Justin Smith -- played at least 75 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps. Moss and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga were key contributors while playing less than half the snaps. Clark Haggans and Leonard Davis were veteran backups.
The 49ers have a strong core of young players on offense in particular, including four of their offensive linemen, their quarterback and two running backs.
Note: This is probably going to wrap up the day from my end. I'm well into the second and final leg of a flight from Denver to Seattle on the way back from New Orleans. See you Tuesday unless something major happens before then.
After a shaky first half, Colin Kaepernick was spectacular as he rallied the 49ers back into the game. Kaepernick led them to 17 points in a span of 4:10 in the third quarter. Kaepernick also scrambled for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Michael Crabtree finished with five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick's second-half play was brilliant. But he did throw the first Super Bowl interception in franchise history. Joe Montana never threw one. Steve Young never threw one. Montana and Young have Super Bowl titles. Kaepernick doesn't.
Frank Gore wasn't much of a factor early on as the 49ers fell way behind. But Gore had a few key runs, including a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and two big runs in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick didn't have any explosive plays off the read option, but his scrambling ability caused major problems for Baltimore's defense. Backup running back LaMichael James lost a second-quarter fumble that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead.
Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as San Francisco's secondary struggled and the pass rush was quiet. But, just like everything else, the pass defense improved in the second half. Still, it wasn't good enough.
This wasn't a big problem for the 49ers because the Ravens came out throwing in the first half. But the 49ers held Ray Rice in check when he did run.
Jim Harbaugh did a nice job of getting his team back into the game after the power outage early in the second half. But Harbaugh's team, particularly Kaepernick, seemed uptight in the first half. Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense. I can't help but wonder if his high-pressure style might be why his team started so poorly. Harbaugh's play-calling at the end of game, when the 49ers failed to score on four plays from within seven yards of the end zone, also leaves him open for plenty of criticism.
San Francisco 49ers fans could do without such a finish in Super Bowl XLVII after their team's kicker, David Akers, missed 10 of his 19 tries from at least 40 yards this season.
Not that the 49ers' opponent in this Super Bowl has sailed through the playoffs on the strength of its special teams. The Baltimore Ravens have their own issues in that area.
NFC West blogger Mike Sando and AFC North counterpart Jamison Hensley have covered most of the other angles heading into this game. Can they pull off an item dedicated solely to special teams or will this one bounce off the upright? You decide.
Sando: Ravens fans probably don't want to hear about Akers' struggles. They're still recovering from Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the playoffs last season. But as I've watched the 49ers and Ravens advance through the playoffs, special-teams issues have been impossible to overlook. Here we have the Ravens, led by a former special-teams coach, allowing 104-yard and 90-yard returns for touchdowns in a close game at Denver. And here we have the 49ers, with big bucks invested in special-teams coach Brad Seely, hoping against hope that Akers can make routine field goals. Are we overreacting here, Jamison?
Hensley: Not an overreaction at all, Mike. It's kind of been a curse with Ravens head coaches. Brian Billick could never get the offense on track when he was in Baltimore after coordinating the highest-scoring offense at the time in Minnesota. The same goes for Harbaugh, who has to be irritated by the critical breakdowns on special teams after spending most of his NFL career coordinating that area of the game. It was worse for the Ravens last season, when they allowed three touchdowns on special teams.
Sando: I remember one of them well. Arizona’s Patrick Peterson returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore. Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs and the New York Jets’ Joe McKnight also did the return-game scoring honors against the Ravens last season. It was the Broncos’ Trindon Holliday with that 104-yard kickoff return and 90-yard punt return this postseason.
Hensley: John Harbaugh thought the problem was fixed. The Ravens didn't allow a special-teams touchdown in the regular season and didn't allow even one yard on a return of any kind in the wild-card playoff game against Indianapolis. But lapses on special teams nearly cost the Ravens in the AFC division playoff game, where they gave up those touchdowns to Holliday. The Ravens still express confidence in their coverage teams and they have veteran experience there with Brendon Ayanbadejo, Sean Considine and James Ihedigbo. Still, those errors have to be in the back of the Ravens' minds.
Sando: The 49ers have had their own special-teams adventures, of course. We all remember Kyle Williams’ miscues dooming San Francisco to defeat in the NFC Championship Game one year ago. You might also recall Ted Ginn Jr. struggling to field the ball in the rain against New England this season. Ginn was a consistent threat in 2011, but not so much this season. He did have a 20-yard punt return against Atlanta in the NFC title game this year. Ginn has six career return touchdowns, three apiece on punts and kickoffs. He is a player to watch on special teams in this matchup. Playing the game indoors removes weather as a concern -- big for returners.
Hensley: The Ravens actually had Ginn in for a visit this offseason because they were looking to upgrade at returner. They finally decided he was too much of a risk considering his injury history. Baltimore was lucky in landing Jacoby Jones. A week after the Texans released Jones, the Ravens signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal. He has been an electric returner for the Ravens, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl this season that he didn't make. Jones is the only player in NFL history with two kickoff returns of at least 105 yards in a career. And he did it in one season. The other big pickup made by the Ravens this offseason was kicker Justin Tucker, an undrafted rookie who beat out Cundiff this summer.
Sando: Ah, yes, Cundiff. The 49ers signed him to compete with Akers before the playoffs got going. That is how desperate they had become after Akers made only 11 of his final 18 tries of the regular season. Akers, Cundiff and Green Bay’s Mason Crosby were the only qualifying kickers making less than 70 percent of their field goal tries during the regular season. Counting the playoffs, Akers has made only 9 of 19 tries from 40-plus yards. He bounced one off the upright against Atlanta, making that game the 49ers’ first under Jim Harbaugh without at least one made field goal.
Hensley: While the decision to go with Tucker over Cundiff proved to be the right one, it was still a gutsy call by Harbaugh back in the end of August. The Ravens went from Cundiff, a Pro Bowl kicker in 2010, to Tucker, an undrafted rookie out of Texas. They went from Cundiff, who had converted 89.9 percent of his kicks inside the 50 over the past two years (53-of-59) and led the NFL in touchbacks, to Tucker, who had never kicked in a regular-season game.
Sando: How the mighty have fallen. Akers set an NFL record for made field goals in 2011. He and Cundiff were both Pro Bowlers recently.
Hensley: Tucker has surpassed expectations. He connected on 90.9 percent of his field goals (30-of-33) in the regular season, which was the second-best mark by a rookie kicker in NFL history. Tucker also has been clutch with three game winners, including a 47-yarder to win the AFC divisional playoff game in double overtime. Another strength of the Ravens is at punter, and the 49ers can say the same thing.
Sando: I think Andy Lee is the best punter in the NFL. And while there’s no truth to the adage that special teams comprise one-third of the game, there’s no question field position can matter a great deal in a game between evenly matched opponents. So can last-second field goals. And if this game comes down to one of those, the Ravens have to like their chances.
Colleague Dan Graziano asked for San Francisco 49ers strengths and weaknesses during our "Road to the Superdome" conversation Wednesday afternoon.
I forgot to mention the field-goal kicking situation as a weakness.
Veteran David Akers sent all five kickoffs for touchbacks during the 49ers' 28-24 playoff victory over Atlanta, his highest single-game percentage since a Week 8 game at Arizona. But San Francisco went without a made field goal for the first time in a game since Jim Harbaugh became coach before the 2011 season.
Akers' 44-yard try bounced off the left upright.
"If it had been 3 inches to the right, I would have had a perfect game today," Akers said Sunday outside the 49ers' locker room in the Georgia Dome. "All touchbacks, real deep balls so they couldn't return get returns. I felt real good coming out and kicking the ball. I thought it would come in a little bit more and, again, it's just one of those things that I just keep scratching my head."
The chart compares Akers' regular-season and postseason stats with those for his Baltimore counterpart in the Super Bowl, Justin Tucker.
Tucker, an undrafted rookie, hit a game-winning 47-yard kick against Denver in the divisional round. He also made a game-winning 38-yarder against San Diego during the regular season.
The Atlanta Falcons earned it with a 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round. It's now up to the San Francisco 49ers to give the NFC West a Super Bowl representative for the third time in the last eight seasons.
I think it's going to happen, but to get there, the 49ers will have to beat a Falcons team with a 34-6 home record since 2008.
Here goes with the weekly prediction:
- San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, 3 p.m. ET: Colin Kaepernick has gone 2-2 as a road starter for the 49ers. The victories came against New England and New Orleans. The defeats were at Seattle and St. Louis. Kaepernick had six touchdown passes, two rushing touchdowns, three picks, five sacks and the NFL's fourth-best Total QBR (79.6) for qualifying road starters. Crowd noise has given him problems at times. That is a concern for the 49ers as they try to run their offense efficiently. San Francisco has the better offensive and defensive lines, the better running backs and the better secondary, in my view. Both team's quarterbacks and tight ends are dangerous. The Falcons are better at receiver and kicker. Would you trust a game-winning kick to David Akers? Sando's best guess: 49ers 30, Falcons 17.
Green Bay has become more likely to run on first down lately, but if the Packers feel as though the 49ers' defense is too stout for such tactics, they could shift to more of a pass-oriented approach -- particularly if they think an injury to San Francisco's Justin Smith compromises the 49ers' pass rush.
That is one line of thinking, anyway. Donald Driver is among the Packers' receivers active. He was inactive last week. The Packers are healthier at receiver than they've been for most of the season. That also could explain why they have so many wideouts active.
Kicker Billy Cundiff is among the 49ers' inactive players. The team signed him as insurance when David Akers struggled. Coach Jim Harbaugh indicated during the week that Akers would serve as the kicker for this divisional-round game.