Chandler was a bad investment

Jeff Chandler is the leading scorer in the NFC today. He also is in his first full day without a job as the 49ers' kicker. That the latter could happen to the former tells you just how poorly Chandler was performing while still putting up points, and why the Niners had to make a move sooner rather than later to replace him.

Chandler leads the NFC with 25 points, but that was a result of all the opportunities he received to make easy field goals. Chandler had five of those in the opener against the Chicago Bears - all of them 29 yards or shorter. He also made a 35-yarder the next week against the St. Louis Rams.

But that was routine stuff. Chandler missed an extra point wide-right against the Bears. He sailed the opening kickoff out of bounds at St. Louis, giving the Rams the ball by rule at their own 40. And then he missed a 43-yard field goal attempt short and wide right in the second quarter, an error that would come back to haunt the Niners in their 27-24 overtime loss last week.

The Niners had a lot invested in Chandler, a fourth-round draft pick in 2002 who received a $330,000 signing bonus. He never lived up to the promise the Niners saw when they drafted him, failing to beat out Jose Cortez for the job last summer. Chandler earned a spot on the roster last year as a second kicker only because the team wasn't about to give up on its investment so soon.

He got his chance late last year when Cortez imploded, and while Chandler did nothing spectacular, he at least did well enough to earn another look this year. But, despite kicking well in summer camp, Chandler struggled in the preseason.

That didn't matter, because Chandler was going to be San Francisco's kicker this season until he either succeeded or failed. There would be no in-between, like his late-season audition last year. The Niners were going to stay with Chandler until he proved his worth or cost them a game.

The team's confidence in Chandler was clearly waning even before the St. Louis game, but his shaky effort there sealed the deal. If that's the way Chandler was going to perform in big games amid dome conditions, the Niners didn't need to see anything else.

It was a difficult decision for general manager Terry Donahue to make, because it was Donahue's decision to select Chandler and he gave the kicker a lot of support and chances. But even Donahue could see the outrage from 49ers coaches regarding Chandler's performance and inability to improve.

And Donahue had to consider what message it was sending to the rest of a championship-minded team that management would continue to rely on Chandler.

Now the Niners turn to Owen Pochman, whom Donahue says, "has a big upside and will bring a strong leg to the organization."

That's something the Niners thought they were getting when they invested in Jeff Chandler. But it never turned out that way, and now the team is starting over again at a key position that often decides whether games are won or lost.

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