By Ben Sullivan
If you thought last night’s Eagles-Jets game was just a sleepwalk until the Sept. 7 regular season opener against Jacksonville, think again.
The Eagles may have found their kicker of the present and the future.
Alex Henery was the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Now, he is fighting for his NFL career — at least, his Eagles’ career — after a disappointing 2013 postseason and 2014 preseason.
Rookie Cody Parkey made a strong case for himself Thursday night by converting two long field goals — a 54-yarder in the second quarter and a 53-yarder in the third quarter — during the Eagles’ 37-7 preseason victory over the Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. He also kicked a 25-yarder as time expired in the first half.
However, when the Eagles (2-2) make their final cuts by 4 p.m. Saturday, reducing their active roster from 75 to 53 players, don’t be surprised if Henery is still on the team.
Coach Chip Kelly would not tip his hand.
“We’re not making any cuts now,” he said. “We’ll go back as a staff and make our final decisions.”
Despite missing a pivotal 48-yarder in the Eagles’ 28-26 home loss to the New Orleans Saints in a 2013 NFC Wild Card Game, a 47-yarder against the New England Patriots in the second preseason game and a 31-yard chip shot against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, Henery still may be the team’s best option.
“It’s out of my control, so whatever happens, happens,” Henery said. “Everything happens for a reason. That is how you have to approach it.”
At least, Henery has an NFL resume — a decent resume — which is more than you can say for Parkey, acquired last week from the Indianapolis Colts to challenge Henery after fellow rookie Carey “Murderleg” Spear lost his challenge.
“They never made any promises,” Parkey said of the Eagles. “But they traded for me. I think they’re interested. I gave them a taste of things to come.”
Henery, a fourth-round draft choice in 2011, has converted 74-of-86 field goals (86 percent) in his first three seasons, including 23 of 28 in 2013. Sure, he struggles on long field-goal attempts. Sure, he can’t kick the ball out of the end zone. Sure, he has lost some confidence.
But can Kelly bank on an unproven rookie, who, despite leading the nation with 69 touchbacks last season at Auburn, converted just 15-of-21 field goals (71.4 percent) and missed a 33-yard chip shot in the BCS National Championship Game?
That’s quite a gamble, even for a gambling man like Kelly.
Of course, the Eagles could add a veteran kicker this weekend after final roster cuts. There should be a few to choose from. Jay Feely, a 14-year NFL veteran who was released by the Arizona Cardinals, and second-year kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was dropped by the Buffalo Bills, are already on the market.
Feely converted 30-of-36 field goals last season, including 11 of 12 from 40-49 yards and 3 of 5 from beyond 50. Hopkins, who missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, made 5-of-6 field goals from 50-plus yards during his career at Florida State.
“I can’t answer that question,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the next day or so and see what other guys are available.”