For a few of them, the NFL life is very stable, very happy, and while it's always filled with stress, it has some stability built in. David Akers, for example, played for 12 seasons as an Eagle, was one of the best in the business and in fact goes into the franchise's Hall of Fame during the October 23 game against Washington at Lincoln Financial Field.
Since Akers departed, unceremoniously, it's been a bit of a merry-go-round at the position. Alex Henery was lights out after the Eagles selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft – for two seasons. By 2013, his numbers dropped a bit and by 2014 a new kicker by the name of Cody Parkey was acquired in a trade and responded with a Pro Bowl season as a rookie. An injury suffered in the preseason of 2015 landed Parkey on Injured Reserve and opened the door for Caleb Sturgis, who was promising enough to get invited back for 2016.
Sturgis beat out Parkey for the job in '16 and then went on to make a franchise-record 35 field goals, converting 85.4 percent of his field goal attempts, and signed a new contract.
Stability, it seemed, had returned to the position for the Eagles.
Alas, that all changed on Sunday when the Eagles opened the season at Washington. Sturgis suffered a hip injury on the opening kickoff and gutted his way through the rest of the game, making three field goals – one from 50 yards out – along with a PAT, even though the pain in his hip worsened as the day got longer.
Back to the drawing board, then. So much for stability. The in-and-out nature of the placekicking position continues, then, with a rookie by the name of Jake Elliott, whom the Eagles plucked off the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday after conducting tryouts with a handful of veterans.
On Wednesday, Elliott was at the NovaCare Complex hopeful to get his Eagles career started. A fifth-round draft pick in April, Elliott was unable to unseat veteran placekicker Randy Bullock in Cincinnati as the Bengals conducted, and were very up front about it, an open competition at the position. Bullock won the position on the 53-man roster and Elliott was placed on the practice squad there.
Now he's here. An Eagle. With a game at the loudest sports stadium in the world (look it up, 142.2 decibels, recorded in 2014 during a game against the Patriots), Elliott is going to stare down the sea of Chiefs fans wearing red hats, shirts, faces, teeth, and hope he impresses enough to hang around.
For how long, who knows? This is the unpredictable nature of the NFL at work in front of our very eyes. Akers, as you should have realized at the time, was a special kicker, an anomaly. He stayed healthy. He knocked through everything from 45 yards and in. He was reliable. He was clutch.
The Eagles haven't given any guarantees to Elliott, who has had a roller-coaster ride since the pre-draft workouts and the very rewarding draft experience through the spring and summer and preseason and, ultimately, the news that he did not make the Bengals' 53-man roster.
"It's been pretty wild, I have to say that, especially the last day. I was in Cincinnati yesterday and got the call to come here, so there isn't much time to get ready," Elliott said. "Here I am. I have to get myself ready to play on Sunday and do my job."
The key, says Elliott, is to establish his rhythm with long snapper Rick Lovato and holder Donnie Jones. That work started on Wednesday. So, count on your fingers – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then in the pregame period on Sunday. Five days to establish the kind of timing that can, to make it perfect, take months, if not longer.
"I just have to get comfortable and they've done a great job with that so far, so I'm excited," Elliott said. "I thought I had a pretty good camp, a pretty good preseason, but Randy ended up winning the job so all credit to him."
Truth is, Elliott has no idea what to expect on Sunday. Nerves? Probably. Confidence? He has to have it.
"I think it's going to be interesting," Elliott said. "I think it will all be fine. I've got a couple of preseason games under the belt. Obviously, this is going to be a little different, having your first NFL regular-season game. I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it."
Elliott said there was no thought to staying with the Bengals. He wants to compete. He wants to win a job. He gets his first crack at it Sunday, a rookie playing in the most hostile environment in the sports world. If he can make it there, he can make it anywhere. Right? Isn't that what they say about Arrowhead Stadium …?
"I just have to go out there and do my job and rely on what I've always done," said Elliott, an All-America kicker at Memphis. "I've got a few days here to get things down and I'm going to work as hard as I can to get ready to go."