What appeared all but imminent became official Sunday morning as the Ravens released kicker Billy Cundiff, meaning rookie Justin Tucker has won the job for the 2012 season.
The news was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter as the 2010 Pro Bowl kicker will not receive the opportunity to atone for his 32-yard miss in the AFC Championship game last January that would have sent the Ravens to overtime in Foxborough.
The writing appeared on the wall for the 32-year-old Cundiff after coach John Harbaugh elected to have Tucker handle all kicking duties in the Ravens’ 48-17 preseason win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday. Tucker connected on field goals from 33 and 53 yards while Cundiff watched from the sidelines, and Harbaugh’s comments since had been anything but a ringing endorsement for the incumbent kicker.
“Billy had a great camp, the best he has had with us,” Harbaugh said in a team statement. “He showed, like he always has, a toughness and an ability to come back and be a top-flight NFL kicker. These decisions are never easy, and this one was difficult for all of us – Ozzie [Newsome], Jerry [Rosburg] and me.
“Of course, that says something about Justin [Tucker], the way he has kicked and our belief in him. But, that does not say something less about Billy. 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.”
Tucker is 5-for-5 in the preseason and made 40 of 48 field goal attempts in his career at Texas.
Cundiff performed well during training camp and the preseason, but it was clear the rookie from Texas had kicked even better in his opportunities. While Cundiff will forever be defined in Baltimore by his miss against the Patriots, he struggled in 2011 while making 28 of 37 kicks during the regular season — all misses coming on the road — and was only 1-for-6 on tries from 50-plus yards.
The veteran was frustrated following Thursday’s preseason game as it appeared he knew his time was running out with the Ravens.
“Regardless of my track record, if you look at it in the last two years as a full-time kicker, inside of 50 yards, I’m about 90 percent,” Cundiff said. “If you look at the playoffs, I’m [11 of 12 in three seasons in Baltimore]. In the last two years, if you take all of my touchbacks combined, I have more touchbacks than anybody else in the league. I feel as if that’s not good enough, then I’ll take my services elsewhere.”
In January 2011, the Ravens signed Cundiff to a five-year, $15 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. Releasing Cundiff clears his $2.2 million base salary from the cap this season — with a $600,000 cap hit remaining — but now leaves $1.8 million in dead money for the 2013 salary cap.
With Tucker reportedly making $390,000 this season, the Ravens will roughly save $1.8 million on the 2012 salary cap with this decision.
The Ravens must trim their preseason roster from 90 players to 75 by 4 p.m. Monday. The final cut-down to 53 players must take place by 9 p.m. Friday evening.