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Lions' Jason Hanson retires after 21 years: 'It's time'

4:04 PM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson leaves the field following a 34-31 overtime loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 22, 2012. / Julian H. Gonzalez / DFP
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(Detroit Free Press) -- The Detroit Lions will have a new kicker this fall for the first time in 22 years.

Jason Hanson, the NFL's longest-tenured player, announced his retirement today, after 21 seasons.

"It's time," Hanson said in a statement released by the team. "I gave serious thought and consideration to playing in 2013. While the determination and willpower are still there, the wear and tear on my body, especially the issues I had and still have with my heel have convinced me that it's time to retire.

"I have put a lot of prayer into this decision, and I believe it is the right one."

A second-round pick in the 1992 draft and a Lions staple since, Hanson originally told the Lions he wanted to play at least one more year, but the two sides were unable to come to a contract agreement, and Hanson has said he does not want to play for another team.

The Lions made Hanson, 42, a take-it-or-leave-it offer earlier this month, for around $1 million. Phil Dawson, 38 and coming off his first Pro Bowl, set the market for veteran kickers two weeks ago, when he got a one-year free agent deal from the San Francisco 49ers for $2.35 million.

Hanson holds NFL records for most 50-yard field goals (52) and games played with one team (327), and ranks third in league history in total field goals (495) and points (2,150).

He made 32 of 36 kicks last year, but three of his misses hit an upright, including the potential game winner in a Thanksgiving loss to the Houston Texans.

Lions president Tom Lewand said at the NFL owners meetings last month there was no guarantee Hanson would be back, given the constraints of the salary cap. The Lions began today with the 15th-most cap space in the NFL -- about $6.8 million.

"It's not a system that provides for a lot of allowance for sentimentality," Lewand said. "We have the utmost respect for Jason and want to have him back, but it's a situation where everything has to fit. The salary cap is a real restraint for all 32 clubs, and we have to operate within that and within our plans. So we've had our discussions with Jason, and like I said, we have the utmost respect for him personally and professionally, which is why we want to have him back."

Hanson is the second established veteran to retire from the Lions in the past month.

Jeff Backus announced his decision to step away from the game after 12 seasons two weeks ago, just days before he was due a $750,000 signing bonus.

Asked at the owners meetings whether the Lions would have released Backus had he not retired, general manager Martin Mayhew said, "That's not even -- we were talking to Jeff about what he wanted to do, and we were engaged in discussion with him throughout the entire process, sort of what his plan was, and that's what he decided to do."

Several other teams across the NFL have made well-publicized decisions to move on from franchise staples for football and financial reasons this off-season. The Chicago Bears announced they couldn't come to a contract agreement with linebacker Brian Urlacher after 13 seasons, and the Baltimore Ravens made a tepid attempt to keep safety Ed Reed after 11 years and a Super Bowl championship.

Urlacher is an unrestricted free agent who has garnered limited interest, while Reed signed with the Houston Texans.

Before Hanson's announcement, the Lions already were making plans for his replacement.

David Akers, released by the San Francisco 49ers last month, visited the team Tuesday, and the Lions worked out kickers Justin Medlock and Havard Rugland before the start of free agency.

Akers, 38, is coming off a down year in which he missed 13 of 42 field-goal attempts, but he's a six-time Pro Bowler and struggled through a hip injury most of the season.

When healthy at the beginning of last year, he tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in a season-opening win over the Green Bay Packers.

Hanson will hold a news conference Tuesday to address his decision.

"Jason Hanson is the gold standard," Lewand said in a statement released by the team. "He had an exemplary, Hall of Fame-worthy career on the field, and for those of us fortunate to know him well, he is an even better person, teammate, friend, husband and father.

"Our organization has been blessed to have Jason for 21 years."

Contact Dave Birkett: 313-222-2037 or dbirkett@freepress.com.

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