After his late-season struggles last year, nobody has to tell Cortez that his employment with the Niners could be in jeopardy this season. The native of El Salvador can see the evidence as well as anybody – the Niners signed free-agent Jamie Rheem in January, then selected Florida's Jeff Chandler in the fourth round of the NFL draft last weekend.
"When I saw that on the news, I mean, I was surprised," Cortez said Saturday in a break between practices at the Niners' three-day minicamp. "But that's the way it is. That's not something I have any control of. Jamie Rheem and Jeff Chandler, they're pretty good kickers. All I can do is come over here and have a good minicamp."
After making his first 11 field-goal attempts last year in his first NFL season, Cortez was seven-of-14 down the stretch with five kicks blocked. That prompted Niners general manager Terry Donahue to say, on the day he drafted Chandler, "We didn't kick the ball in the second half of the season, no disrespect to Jose Cortez. We brought Jose Cortez here and he started the season in great fashion and things were great. But in the second half of the season, we didn't kick the ball well enough to be a quality kicking team. When Steve (Mariucci) and the coaches get down into the red area and we need points, we've got to make those points, period."
Cortez, who is no stranger to adversity, welcomes the new battle for his job. After going from NFL Europe to the XFL to the 49ers without a break in 2000-2001, he appears refreshed and looks settled and strong during minicamp drills. And, perhaps most importantly, his confidence certainly doesn't appear to be rattled.
"With the experience of what I went through last year, I can use it to be the guy here again," Cortez said. "I know what I need to do to be the starting kicker here. I think if I do what's necessary, I don't think I'll have to worry about anything."
Rheem, who appeared to be winning a close battle for the job with Cortez in training camp last year before a pulled hamstring ended his bid, may be the one with something to worry about. The Niners don't expect to take three kickers to Stockton in July for training camp, which means every day counts for the three kicker candidates. The team could decide to drop one of them as soon as Sunday's final day of minicamp.
And it won't be Chandler, considering the Niners have had so little time to evaluate their fourth-rounder.
"I graduated with a business degree," Rheem said. "I'm not stupid. Jose was the man last year. He's the favorite. And Jeff was a fourth-round draft pick. Nobody is going to spend a fourth-round draft pick if they don't think the guy is going to be in it."