David Akers: In decline or on rebound?

The Detroit Lions signed veteran place-kicker David Akers on Friday night, and to me it's fair to ask if the Lions will hand him the 2013 job outright or pit him in a competition before deciding who will replace the retired Jason Hanson.

Akers is a six-time All-Pro and one of the best kickers of this generation, but 2012 was by far the worst year of his career. He made only nine of 19 attempts longer than 39 yards for the San Francisco 49ers, and overall he finished with a career-low 69.0 conversion percentage. The 49ers nearly replaced Akers at the start of the playoffs, and last month they released him and signed veteran Phil Dawson to do the place-kicking duties.

The question is whether Akers, 38, began a steep decline last season or if temporary circumstances caused his struggles. He admitted in January to having ongoing complications from 2012 surgery to repair two sports hernias. And as we noted earlier this offseason, judging place-kickers accurately requires some environmental context. Akers kicked half of his games outdoors on the grass of Candlestick Park, whereas the Lions offer eight games of perfect conditions inside Ford Field.

The 49ers certainly weren't interested in finding out whether Akers can rebound. As Hanson proved, 38 isn't too old for an NFL place-kicker. Are the Lions prepared to make that bet? Or is this part of a multi-pronged effort to find their next place-kicker? Let's keep our eyes on the draft.