NFL: Panthers sign rookie kicker
CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers signed rookie kicker Adi Kunalic to a three-year contract on Tuesday, and also decided to keep veteran Olindo Mare on the roster.
Kunalic, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska, attended training camp with the Panthers, but was cut prior to the season.
Mare missed a 36-yard field goal with 5:26 left in the game Sunday that would have given Carolina a 26-24 lead against Atlanta.
Instead, the Falcons took advantage of that momentum and scored two plays later on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to beat the Panthers 31-23. Mare also missed a game-tying field goal earlier in the season against Minnesota.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said it’s too early to know who’ll handle field goals and kickoffs for Sunday’s game against Houston.
“I don’t know, we brought Adi in compete with Olindo,” Hurney said. “We’ll see what happens this week in practice.”
The Panthers made a significant investment in Mare this offseason, giving him a four-year contract worth $12 million that included a $4 million signing bonus to replace long-time kicker and fan favorite John Kasay.
If the Panthers were to cut Mare this coming offseason they would have to absorb the prorated portion of his signing bonus — $3 million — under next year’s salary cap.
Mare has converted 19 of 25 field goals this season. At 76 percent, that ranks near the bottom of the league.
Hurney said Kunalic caught the coaching staff’s attention during training with a strong leg, even though he didn’t get many field goal attempts at Nebraska. He was primarily used on kickoffs.
“We liked what we saw from Adi and he has a lot of potential,” Hurney said. “He has a strong leg and a great attitude.”
Hurney said it’s unclear why Mare has struggled this season, particularly in crucial situations.
“We talked to him and he knows and we need to do better in that area,” Hurney said.
To make room on the roster, the Panthers put linebacker Jason Phillips on injured reserve with a right calf injury. The Panthers have a franchise-record 15 players on injured reserve.
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