July 20, 2011

1995: Morten Andersen Leaves Saints for Falcons

Kickers typically come and go without much fanfare, but in the case of Morten Andersen and his leaving the New Orleans Saints for the Atlanta Falcons, it was a move of some significance.

The Danish-born Andersen had come to the US as a youth and first began kicking footballs in high school. From there it was on to Michigan State, where he once booted a 63-yard field goal against Ohio State, and then to the Saints in 1982, who drafted him in the fourth round. While things got off to a less than promising start when Andersen missed much of his rookie season due to injury, he rebounded to become one of the NFL’s most accurate and accomplished placekickers.

Through 13 years in New Orleans, he kicked 302 field goals in 389 attempts, a healthy 77.6 percentage (sixth best at the time), and 412 of 418 extra point attempts. While he benefited from his team’s playing home games in a domed stadium, the left-footed kicker was good from long distances and already held the NFL record with 22 field goals from 50 yards or longer (of 53 attempts). He was also the league’s second-leading active career scorer with 1318 points, had been a consensus first-team All-Pro twice, and was selected to the Pro Bowl six times (four times consecutively from 1985 to ’88).

However, in 1994 Andersen’s field goal percentage dipped to 71.8 (28 of a league-leading 39 attempts), his lowest since 1989. He was released by the Saints in a salary cap move, although the team had expected to re-sign him with a restructured contract (Andersen’s salary, which included bonuses earned in 1994, would have counted for $1.2 million against the cap).

Instead, on July 20, 1995, the day following the release, Andersen signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Not only had the star placekicker left the Saints, but he signed with their archrivals.

“We were shocked that a kicker of Morten's caliber was available, so I decided we should make the move now,” Atlanta Head Coach June Jones said. The Falcons waived their own veteran placekicker, Norm Johnson, who moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Andersen overcame any concerns about slippage by again receiving first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors while tying his career-high with 31 field goals, in 37 attempts, for an 83.8 success rate – including a league-record eight of nine from 50 yards or more. By contrast, the Saints went through two placekickers: ex-Washington veteran Chip Lohmiller, who was good on just 57.1 % of his field goal attempts (8 for 14) and missed two extra points, and Doug Brien, who was more successful (12 of 17, 70.6 %).

Andersen stayed with the Falcons for six seasons before moving on to the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and Minnesota Vikings. He finished up back in Atlanta for two years, and in his last season was successful on 89.3 % of his field goal attempts (25 of 28) at the age of 47. While his leg strength diminished (he wasn’t successful from 50 yards or longer after 2002 with the Chiefs), his accuracy never fell below 80 % in any of his last seven seasons.

Overall, over the course of 25 NFL seasons (second most all-time), Andersen ended up with career records in games played (382), points scored (2544), and field goals (565). He eventually surrendered the all-time record for three-pointers from 50 yards or longer to Jason Hanson, but his total of 40 still ranks second, as do his 859 extra points. And finally, he holds the distinction of being the only player that is the career scoring leader for two NFL teams – the Saints (1318) and, perhaps the unkindest cut of all for New Orleans fans, the Falcons (806).