David Akers knew the Eagles would draft a kicker probably before they even did.
Well, at least his subconscious did.
About a month before the Eagles selected Nebraska’s Alex Henery in the fourth round of the NFL draft – and likely signaled the end of Akers’ 12-year run with the franchise – the Pro Bowl kicker dreamt the team took a kicker.
A friend had already told of having the same premonition, and Akers – a self-proclaimed devout Christian – added the discomforting idea to his list of prayers. Moments after last season ended, he predicted that he had played his last game with the Eagles. But the dream seemed all too real.
Akers told his wife, Erika, who only found it amusing. But on April 30, the Eagles made his dream come true. Akers was coaching his son’s youth football team when his agent, Jerrold Colton, called with the news.
“My wife wasn’t at the game, so I called her and said, ‘Eagles drafted a kicker,’” Akers said Monday after a workout at Power Train Sports in Cherry Hill. “And she said, ‘That’s an answer to a prayer.’ But I don’t have an answer as to what it means.”
He has a pretty good idea.
“Right now, I don’t think I’m going to be back,” Akers said. “It’s pretty much that when you see a kicker drafted high the writing’s on the wall.”
Eagles coach Andy Reid declined to address Akers’ future with the team after the draft. Reid has never drafted a kicker, mainly because Akers made it unnecessary. But the 36-year-old kicker is a free agent, and because of the NFL lockout free agency has yet to occur. So the Eagles decided now was the time to add a young kicker.
They had placed the transition tag – a provision that would have given the Eagles right of first refusal should other teams had tried to sign Akers – on the kicker in February. But Akers declined to sign the tag.
“There’s more to it than just the simplicity of signed it or didn’t sign it,” Akers said. “We don’t know if there’s even going to be a tag in the [new collective bargaining agreement]. That’s going under 2010 rules. But before that it was 17 years where you could use two guys. It was either one guy who was franchised or transitioned.”
Michael Vick signed the Eagles’ franchise tag, but the quarterback is guaranteed a one-year contract if the league retains the same rules.
In December, the Eagles and Akers had talked about a contract extension. The team offered a deal that would have made him one of the top five kickers in the league, but Akers passed, according to league sources.
He went on to have one the best regular seasons of his career. Akers connected on 32 of 38 field goal attempts, booted a career-best 23 touchbacks and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time. But he missed two very makeable field goal tries in the Eagles’ 21-16 playoff loss to the Packers.
“We can all count,” Reid said after the game. “Those points would have helped.”
Later it was learned that Akers’ mind might have been elsewhere. His daughter, Halley, was about to have a cancerous ovary removed. On Monday, Akers said that she is fine and now cancer-free.
Still, he does not know where his future lies. There are a number of teams that could use a kicking upgrade, including the NFC East’s Cowboys, Redskins and Giants. Akers did not rule out the possibility of staying in Philadelphia.
“Whether it’s time to get out of here and get into a new setting, I’m open to anything,” Akers said. “My ego is not like, ‘OK, I can’t be here with somebody.’ If they want me and we can work everything out, then absolutely.”
Henery, who handled placekicking and punting, did not kickoff in college. When Akers first came to the Eagles he kicked off and attempted long field goal tries while Norm Johnson took care of most of the placekicking duties. But Akers believes he has a number of good years left as a team’s primary kicker, especially after kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line.
The Eagles’ longest-tenured player and the only one left on the roster to arrive before Reid – he was signed days before the coach was hired in January 1999 -- Akers didn’t talk with Reid when the lockout was briefly lifted during the draft. Akers said he did speak with special teams coordinator Bobby April that Friday.
He said that April gave no indication that the Eagles were thinking about drafting a kicker the next day.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the Eagles organization,” said Akers, who has seen his share of other long-time Eagles, such as Brian Dawkins, leave the organization. “I’ve seen it happen. But I can’t hold it against them. It’s their company, their decision.”