Tuesday, the Detroit Lions broke plenty of hearts with the news that they had released YouTube sensation kicker and nice guy Havard Rugland (nicknamed "Kickalicious") amongst three cuts while naming David Akers their starting kicker.
Welcome to late August in the NFL, where general managers worried about a bottom line care not about the friendly chats fans enjoyed with players at training camp or the amount of autographs they signed. Rugland, by all accounts, did everything right during camp and the preseason, from making field goals to glad handling the fan base. He did, however, have two main factors going against him whereas making the team was concerned:
Akers and a lack of experience.
It wasn't that Rugland couldn't kick, it was simply Detroit's uneasiness that he could kick in important games. For a coaching staff (and perhaps front office) likely working under a "playoffs or bust" ultimatum, going with Rugland now represented a combustible choice. If he succeeded as a kicker, he'd be barely noticeable during the season. If he failed, however, the results could be disastrous, especially a year after Jason Hanson retired.
Akers, while aging and injured most of 2012, still presented the most stable option for Detroit. He's kicked in the playoffs and even the Super Bowl, meaning he's got the big moment experience teams crave in their kickers. If Akers is indeed completely healed from his hip injury as reported, his career could even gain a few more years, considering the Lions play plenty of games inside Ford Field's kicker-friendly domed conditions.
This isn't to say Rugland doesn't have a future in the NFL, or even Detroit. Plenty of teams desperate for kicking might give him an early season chance, but they'll still have to worry about Rugland's lack of experience biting them later as games get more pressure packed. Perhaps Rugland cuts his teeth somewhere where the pressure is lower, or perhaps he simply heads home to Norway and waits for the Lions to call him back in a few years. Now, though, just wasn't the right time for Detroit to try out a kicker who had never played American football.
Many people likely won't be satisfied with that explanation, but if a Rugland experiment cost the Lions a chance at the playoffs later, the entire city—and much of football—would be in an uproar, no matter how bright his personality may shine. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz were content to annoy a minority of the population now instead of stake their reputations on the leg of a man who had never worn a football helmet later.
For that reason, the move to cut Kickalicious was correct on August 27, 2013.
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