49ers sign kicker Cundiff to compete with Akers

JANIE McCAULEY AP Sports Writer Published:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco 49ers signed kicker Billy Cundiff on Tuesday to compete with struggling veteran David Akers.

"He's thrilled with the opportunity to be in a position to help the team in any way he can this postseason," said Cundiff's agent, Paul Sheehy. "It's a great opportunity, with a great organization."

The team announced the move a day after coach Jim Harbaugh said that the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) -- off this week as the NFC's No. 2 seed -- planned to try out kickers because of Akers' prolonged funk.

Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 after missing 5 of his 12 field goal attempts. He had already worked out once for the Niners on Nov. 27 before they invited him back this time, as Harbaugh initially chose to stick with Akers.

Now, Akers and Cundiff will compete to see who kicks in the team's NFC divisional playoff game in prime time Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park. San Francisco will play Green Bay, Seattle or Washington.

The 49ers cleared a spot on the 53-man roster for Cundiff by waiving linebacker Eric Bakhtiari. Players had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off before returning to practice Thursday -- so that will be the first look at both kickers together.

Cundiff spent the 2009-11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by Harbaugh's big brother, John. But Cundiff was cut after last season, when he missed a potential tying 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that sent New England to the Super Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh said Monday he might keep two kickers on the roster and open up a competition.

"If we had two on the roster at the same time, then they can kick in practice," Harbaugh said. "And that's an option. That's a possibility. I think there are three options. We go forward with David. We bring in a new kicker. Or, we have two and let them compete for the job. We'll make that decision as we go."

Akers, who made 44 of 52 attempts in his sensational 2011 season and first year with San Francisco, is just 29 for 42 this year. He is only 7 for 13 from 40-49 yards and missed wide left twice from that range in Sunday's 27-13 victory against Arizona in the regular-season finale.

The 38-year-old Akers signed a three-year contract as arguably the 49ers' biggest offseason acquisition ahead of the 2011 season, aside from the hiring of Harbaugh. And he delivered at nearly every opportunity -- until recently.

He had a 21-yard attempt blocked by Red Bryant in a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23, and Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.

The 32-year-old Cundiff joins his sixth team in 10 NFL seasons. He has also played for Dallas, New Orleans and Cleveland.

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