Novak signs amid fear Rackers' season might be over

With star kicker Neil Rackers expected to miss at least three weeks due to a calf injury he sustained during practice Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals signed free agent Nick Novak, who played with the Washington Redskins earlier this season.

Novak was one of four kickers who auditioned Friday for team officials and coaches and apparently performed better than fellow free agents Matt Fordyce, Shaun Suisham and Jeff Chandler. The team had hurriedly arranged the workout Thursday evening after Rackers was hurt.

It is believed that Novak, 24, signed a one-year contract for the minimum base salary.

In five games with the Redskins while subbing for then-injured John Hall, Novak made five of seven field-goal attempts and all 15 of his extra point tries. The former Maryland kicker averaged 56.8 yards, with no touchbacks, on kickoffs.

Rackers, whose streak of successful field goal conversions ended last week at 31, injured his left leg as he approached the ball and planted in practice. An MRI examination on Thursday night revealed Rackers suffered a partially torn calf muscle.

It was originally believed that Rackers might miss just one game. After the MRI, though, team doctors now feel he will be out at least three weeks. Rackers hopes to return for the final two games but there is no guarantee of that and, indeed, the odds are strong he might miss the remainder of the season.

The Cardinals will not place Rackers on injured reserve. To create a roster spot for Novak, the team released linebacker Isaac Keys.

"It was nothing out of the ordinary ... other than I felt like I'd been shot," said Rackers, who left Arizona's facility limping and on crutches Thursday. He began receiving treatments for the injury on Friday.

A six-year veteran, Rackers, 29, is the league's leading scorer among kickers, with 110 points in 11 games. He has converted 32 of 33 field-goal attempts and all 14 extra-point tries in what has easily been the best year of his career. His performance recently earned Rackers a four-year contract extension through the 2009 season.

He had been scheduled, before the extension, to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The former University of Illinois kicker made his first 31 field goal tries this season before he was wide left on a 43-yard attempt Sunday in gusting winds at Sun Devil Stadium.

Rackers spent the first three-plus seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals but was released in 2003. He signed with the Cardinals as a free agent and since joining the team he has converted 63 of 74 field goal attempts.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.