Billy Cundiff won’t get his chance for redemption, at least not in a Ravens uniform.
A little more than seven months after he missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt that thwarted the Ravens’ Super Bowl hopes and just three days after he was benched for an undrafted rookie in the third preseason game, Cundiff had his contract terminated by the Ravens on Sunday as the team trimmed its roster to 81.
The move, which was extremely unexpected when training camp began but became self-evident when Cundiff did not kick at all in the team’s 48-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, leaves the Ravens’ kicking job to Justin Tucker, a rookie free agent out of Texas.
“I’m disappointed in the decision, but I’m excited about what lies ahead," Cundiff said in an email.
"On a professional level, I had my best training camp to date and feel that I am kicking with more power and confidence than 2010. I was looking forward to helping the Ravens in their pursuit of a Super Bowl. However, now I will take that same drive and focus to my next team.
"On a personal level, my family and I will miss Baltimore. The people of Baltimore made playing for the Ravens a truly memorable experience. We got to enjoy the Charm City for three years and are better for it.
"I’m thinking about the future now and I’m going to put all my energy into preparing for what lies ahead.”
Cundiff didn’t lose the job so much as Tucker won it. The rookie made 96 of 103 field-goal attempts (93.2 percent) in training camp practices and went 5-for-5 in games, including a 53-yarder versus the Jaguars. Cundiff made 88 of 105 of his field-goal tries (83.8 percent) during training camp and was 2-for-2 in preseason games.
“Billy had a great camp, the best he has had with us. He showed, like he always has, a toughness and an ability to come back and be a top-flight NFL kicker,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “These decisions are never easy, and this one was difficult for all of us — general manager Ozzie Newsome, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and me. Of course, that says something about Justin, the way he has kicked and our belief in him. But, that does not say something less about Billy.”
As the Ravens prepare to go into the season with an untested rookie at kicker, Cundiff, 32, who has played eight seasons in the NFL, will now be looking for another job. According to a source, teams have already made inquiries to Cundiff’s agent, Paul Sheehy, to express interest in the veteran kicker, who converted 53 of 59 field-goal attempts inside the 50-yard line over the past two seasons and 12 of 13 attempts in the playoffs.
Cundiff, who signed a five-year, $15 million contract with the Ravens just 19 months ago, had a Pro Bowl season with the Ravens in 2010, making 26 of 29 field-goal attempts and becoming a huge weapon on kickoffs. However, he’ll ultimately be remembered in Baltimore for his miss in the final seconds of the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots in late January.
With the Ravens trailing 23-20 with 15 seconds remaining at Gillette Stadium, Cundiff sent a field-goal attempt wide left and the Patriots celebrated a return to the Super Bowl while the Ravens trudged off the field knowing that their season was over.
The miss ended what was a disappointing campaign for Cundiff, who converted 28 of 37 field-goal attempts during the regular season and was just 1-for-6 from 50-plus yards.
Cundiff said all the right things following the miss. He didn’t blame confusion on the sidelines or any scoreboard glitch. He vowed to put it behind him and dismissed any speculation that his confidence was shaken.
“He shouldered the burden of the AFC title game loss without wavering,” Sheehy told The Sun. “He had the best camp of his career. We can't control what the teams are going to do. That's at their discretion. He's a great kicker. He'll be fine.”
Said Harbaugh: “Billy was ready in every way to be our kicker. He’ll kick in the NFL. He’s a very good kicker and an even better person.”
While he had a solid training camp, the competition with Tucker did appear to wear on the veteran as the preseason progressed. Following the Ravens’ second preseason game, Cundiff said he believed that he was essentially in competition with himself — not Tucker — because he was told that the kicking job was his if he kicked well during training camp.
Then, following Thursday’s game in which he watched Tucker go 2-for-2 on field goals and 6-for-6 on extra points, Cundiff said that he was surprised and disappointed by Harbaugh’s decision not to have him kick.
Harbaugh’s reasoning was that team officials wanted to see if Tucker could handle kicking the whole game, but the writing was clearly on the wall.
“I feel like I’ve been through enough,” Cundiff said after the game. “There’s not a single thing that somebody could throw out at me that I’m not prepared for.“
The Ravens open $1.81 million in salary cap space with the move and start the season with an untested kicker for the second time in four years. In 2009, they opted not to re-sign veteran Matt Stover and went with Steven Hauschka, who beat out Graham Gano for the job in training camp. Hauschka was cut two months into the season after going 9-for-13 on field-goal attempts and missing a potential game-winner at Minnesota.
That prompted the Ravens to bring in Cundiff, while Hauschka eventually moved on to Seattle.
The Ravens’ latest move at kicker will obviously be scrutinized and the team will have to hope Tucker continues to be as consistent and unflappable as he’s been throughout training camp. In four seasons at Texas, Tucker made 40 of 48 kicks while earning a reputation as a clutch and do-it-all performer.
“He never missed a pressure kick for us,” Texas coach Mack Brown said in an interview with The Sun earlier this month. “He made them from 50 plus. Plus, we had him kicking off and we had him regular punting and rugby punting. He did everything for us the last couple of years and did it as well as anybody in the country and never griped about being overloaded at all.”
Note: Needing to have their roster down to 75 by 4 p.m. Monday, the Ravens also released quarterback Chester Stewart, wide receivers Patrick Williams and Devin Goda, tight end Davon Drew, offensive linemen Addison Lawrence and Cecil Newton, cornerback Jordin Mabin, and long snapper Patrick Scales. That leaves them with 81 players on their roster. After getting down to 75 Monday, the Ravens will have to get down to 53 by 9 p.m. Friday.
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun