Kicker Jay Feely agreed to a two-year contract with the Cardinals.
Without a kicker on the roster, the Cardinals felt they needed to get one.
Eventually, that meant Jay Feely would be in Arizona, and not Neil Rackers.
Feely officially agreed to a two-year deal late Thursday night, ending the tenure of Rackers, who had been with the Cardinals since 2003.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Friday morning Rackers, like Feely a free agent, was the only kicker targeted by the team when free agency began.
"When you get to free agency and we have no kickers on the roster, that's an unsettling feeling for the organization," Whisenhunt said. "We attempted to sign Neil. We were forced to move on to the next guy when we couldn't get anything done."
That meant Feely, who visited the team's Tempe complex last month and left a positive impression. He's also played with a couple of new Cardinals – safety Kerry Rhodes in New York the past two seasons, and linebacker Joey Porter with Miami in 2007. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis was also familiar with Feely, having coached with the Falcons when Feely was there.
The position has gained importance for the Cardinals, given the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner and the possibility field goals will loom as bigger factors.
"We felt like where we were going offensively this year because of Kurt and losing some players, there might be more of an emphasis on the kicker in certain games this year," Whisenhunt said. "Not that we didn't think Neil could do it, but we had been working in negotiations and hadn't made a lot of progress."
Feely, who will turn 34 in May, is beginning his 10th season. Kicking for the New York Jets the past two seasons, Feely converted 30 of 36 field goals in 2009 and made all 32 of his extra points. He made his only 50-yard attempt – from 55 yards – and 11-of-14 field goals of at least 40 yards. He had 10 touchbacks among his 82 kickoffs.
"I think he's been a good kicker the last three years in tough conditions, especially last year in New York," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals are Feely's fifth team, having played for the Falcons, Giants, Dolphins and Jets.
Feely, who admittedly didn't want to leave the Jets, said on Twitter the "feeling I got from the Cardinals' organization is that it is filled with the same kind of people and atmosphere as the Jets" and "when you have great people surrounded by talent in a positive environment than you get the most out of everyone."
Rackers, who became an unrestricted free agent after the season, led the NFL in field-goal percentage (94.1) after making 16-of-17 tries in a year hampered by a bad groin injury.
He had become a fan favorite for his willingness to mix it up on kickoff coverage, more than once making a tackle. He also became one of the most deadly onside kickers in the NFL. Whisenhunt pointed out Rackers was the deciding factor in Whisenhunt's first win as a head coach, booting a 42-yarder to beat the Seahawks, 23-20, in Week 2 of 2007.
But Rackers also had some memorable down moments, missing the game-winning field-goal attempt in the infamous 24-23 Monday Night Meltdown game against the Bears in 2006 and a 32-yarder in overtime that would have beat the 49ers in a 2007 home game the Cards eventually lost. He also missed what would have been the game-winning 34-yard field goal against the Packers in the Wild Card playoff game this past season on the last play of regulation, although the Cards won the game in overtime.
Whisenhunt insisted the Cardinals were comfortable with Rackers and would have brought him back had the two sides been able to agree on a contract.
Rackers starred in a record-setting 2005 season in which he set the NFL record with 40 field goals (in 42 attempts) even though he missed a game, also leading the league in percentage (95.2) that year.
In Rackers' seven seasons in Arizona, he converted 165 out of 195 field-goal attempts and his 699 points are second in team history to former kicker Jim Bakken's 1,380.
"We are certainly grateful to Neil for all his accomplishments and for all the work he did in the community, I am sure he will be missed," Whisenhunt said. "But we had to protect ourselves as a football team at an important position."
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