SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco 49ers signed kicker Billy Cundiff on Tuesday to compete with struggling veteran David Akers.

The team announced the move a day after Coach Jim Harbaugh said that the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) — off this week as the NFC’s No. 2 seed — planned to try out kickers because of Akers’ prolonged funk.

Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 after missing five of his 12 field-goal attempts. He had already worked out for the Niners on Nov. 27 before they invited him back this time, as Harbaugh initially chose to stick with Akers.

Now, Akers and Cundiff will compete to see who kicks in the NFC divisional playoff game Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park. San Francisco will play Green Bay, Seattle or Washington.

The 49ers cleared a spot on the 53-man roster for Cundiff by waiving linebacker Eric Bakhtiari. Players had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off before returning to practice Thursday — so that will be the first look at both kickers together.

Cundiff spent the 2009-11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by Harbaugh’s brother, John. But Cundiff was cut after last season, when he missed a potential tying 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that sent New England to the Super Bowl.


BEARS: Too many playoff misses and too many problems on offense were the reasons why General Manager Phil Emery fired Coach Lovie Smith.

The Bears let Smith go Monday even though they won 10 games this season.

But they failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, so they cut ties with their coach after a nine-year run that included three division titles, two NFC championship-game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.

“Our No. 1 goal has to be to win championships, and to win championships we must be in contention on a consistent basis,” Emery said. “And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis. Five out of the last six years, we have not been there. We have fallen short.”

He pointed out that while the Bears consistently boasted an effective defense under Smith with stars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and later Julius Peppers, they never could get it right on offense. Smith had four offensive coordinators during his tenure. The Bears made big trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall, but they continued to struggle through the years, whether it was because of poor play-calling, poor execution or poor blocking.

Emery said he’ll be interviewing potential replacements over the next two weeks and would like to have one in place by the college All-Star games later this month. A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the Bears will interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy this week. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta Falcons special- teams coach Keith Armstrong are also expected to interview, according to reports.


CARDINALS: Arizona began its coaching search with a formal interview of defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

The interview, conducted by team president Michael Bidwill, was the first in the team’s search for a replacement for Ken Whisenhunt, who was fired Monday after six seasons.

The team has reached out to fired Eagles head coach Andy Reid but had not scheduled an interview. Bidwill plans to fly to Denver over the weekend to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.