BY PAUL MANCANO—This summer’s preseason has been a relatively uneventful one. With a quiet, humble quarterback at the helm and DeSean’s loud mouth gone, the 2014 Eagles haven’t brought much attention to themselves, with two exceptions: QB Mark Sanchez and K Alex Henery. Sanchez sparked trade rumors for playing exceptionally well. Meanwhile, Henery performed so poorly, he brought attention and scrutiny upon himself. And on Saturday afternoon, when the Eagles’ 53-man roster was released, Henery’s name was not on the list. And nobody was particularly surprised.
How did such a prolific college kicker end up unemployed after just his third NFL season? How was one of the most consistent kickers of the past three seasons dethroned by an undrafted rookie? The Moose takes a look back at the Eagles career of oldest-looking 26 year old in history, aka Alex Henery.
Taken in the fourth round of the Eagles’ disastrous 2011 Draft, Henery was tapped to replace long-time kicker David Akers. Akers was a staple on Reid’s team since the very beginning, and had earned himself a solid reputation. However, Akers posted sub-80% seasons three times in his career with the Eagles, and ran himself out of town after a poor showing in the playoff game against the Packers. However, due to his high draft position and prolific college career, Henery was placed under a great deal of scrutiny since the beginning of his career.
Henery’s blistering start in Philly was lost in the disappointment of the “Dream Team” implosion. The rookie missed just three field goal attempts all year, and his 89% mark on field goal attempts marked fifth in the league. Ironically, his worst game came against his predecessor, Akers, and the 49ers. The Birds coughed up a 20-point lead, and Henery missed from 33 and 39 yards enroute to a 24-23 loss. However, Henery didn’t miss again for the rest of the year, and his fate as an Eagles stall worth seemed all but sealed.
If Henery’s initial achievements were mired in an embarrassing 2011 campaign, they were utterly forgotten about in the dumpster fire 2012 season. The sophomore put up another solid season, connecting on 87% of his attempts. He also showed off his range, going 10 for 11 on 40-49 yarders, showing off his range.
Life was good for Henery. There was no kicker controversy, and though he had not been called on much in important games, he was one of the few Eagles who had performed well during the collapse of Reid’s team. Naturally, he came into his first camp under Chip Kelly as the unquestioned starter. With new punter Donnie Jones, the kicking unit seemed to be one of the strong points of the team. But then came…
Kelly and his Big Balls breathed new life into a team gasping for air. From his new protein shakes to his bumpin’ music at training camp, Chip brought out the best in just about everybody. Except for Henery. After punching the Redskins in the gut on Opening Night, the Eagles dropped three in a row, a streak in which Henery missed a field goal per game. All three misses came from inside 50 yards, and his 46-yard miss against the Chargers proved to be the difference. When fans wanted someone to blame, Henery’s name was mentioned in the same breath as the atrocious defense.
Another major issue was Henery’s inability to knock the ball out of the end zone. Last year, the Eagles’ lackluster special teams unit ranked 28th in kickoff yards allowed and 25th in opponent touchback percentage. Part of these statistics were due to poor strategizing by Kelly in the Vikings game, in which Henery was instructed to kick the ball short of the end zone. However, Henery’s failure to drop the opponent on the 20-yard line cost the team in numerous instances throughout the year.
But Henery’s most costly miscue came in the Birds’ playoff game against the Saints. With a chance to give his team the early lead, Henery booted a 48-yarder wide right. Then, with the Eagles clinging on to a one-point lead with five minutes left, Henery failed to drive the kickoff out of the end zone. Darren Sproles ran up the sideline for a 39-yard return (plus a 15-yard penalty courtesy of Cary Williams), setting up the Saints’ winning field goal. If the 48-yarder went through, the final score likely would’ve been very different, but the only thing frustrated Eagles fans could think was It would’ve been 27-26. It should’ve been. Much like Akers’ playoff crumble, Henery’s poor performance left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth heading into the offseason.
Following the 2014 NFL Draft, Howie Roseman and the front office brought in Carey “Murderleg” Spear, an undrafted kicker from Vanderbilt, to challenge Henery. Spear had a reputation for playing hard and drilling opposing kick returners. The hope was either Spear would kick like a seasoned vet and win the job, or, the much more likely outcome, Henery would respond by bouncing back and outduelling Murderleg.
Well, Henery did outduel Spear, but only because Spear was just that bad. Murderleg’s leg was so murderless, it never saw the field in preseason. And for some inexplicable reason, the signing backfired, as Henery wilted under pressure in the preseason. Only eight of his seventeen kickoffs were taken for touchbacks, and he missed a 47-yard attempt against the Patriots. Desperate and out of options, the Eagles traded for former Auburn kicker Cody Parkey. Henery was on the hot seat, and he didn’t seem to notice. The night Parkey arrived in Philly, Henery booted a 31-yard attempt wide right against the Steelers. Chip echoed the sentiment of every Eagles fan watching the game:
The door of opportunity was swung wide open for Parkey heading into the final preseason game against the Jets, and the rookie barged through. In Henery’s stead, Parkey banged in all three attempts on the day, including one from 54 yards out and one from 53, both higher than any Henery has posted in his three-year career. And just like that, it was all over.
Henery had been hit by a perfect storm. Poorly timed misses, incredibly small sample size, and his competitor’s unbelievable (dumb) luck did him in. And while his firing is not without warrant, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the success the man achieved in an Eagles uniform. His 89% clip in 2011 was higher than any Akers had in his career. If Henery maintains his FG percentage through his first 100 attempts (he’s at 86 right now), he’ll be in the top ten all-time in that category, and second among active kickers. In his three years, he’s done a very solid job, and it’s highly unlikely that Parkey can match his success.
Was his removal the right decision? Can Parkey prove he’s ready for the next level? Stay tuned.