Three days after Shayne Graham missed his second field goal of the season for the Saints, New Orleans worked out at least three possible replacements.
But the Saints weren’t ready to make a switch Wednesday. Graham remained the team’s kicker, and the tryout players — former Saints Super Bowl hero Garrett Hartley, rookie free-agent Zach Hocker and preseason New Orleans kicker Derek Dimke, according to various sources — left the audition without a contract.
The news isn’t exactly surprising. Although Hartley, Hocker and Dimke all have their upside, Graham this year is 18-of-20 booting field goals for the Saints (5-8), and he earned the NFL’s Special Teams Player of the Month award for October after going 9-of-9 in the three games his team played between Weeks 5 and 8 of the season.
He also is seventh in the NFL with his field-goal percentage of 90.
However, no matter what they say about the situation in the future, there’s no way the Saints didn’t send Graham a clear message that he’s quickly running out of wiggle room.
It could’ve also been a warning to the rest of Graham’s teammates that no spot is safe. The Saints must win the three games remaining on their schedule to qualify for the postseason without the help of tiebreakers
New Orleans has history with two of the kickers the organization evaluated Wednesday.
Hartley played for the Saints from 2008-2013 and made 82-of-101 attempts (81.2 percent) during his tenure. He was released by New Orleans last December after missing two field goals in a 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, and he was replaced by Graham.
In 2009, Hartley connected on a game-winning field goal in the NFC title game against Minnesota to send New Orleans to their first Super Bowl. He then made three kicks two weeks later to help the Saints win New Orleans’ lone major sports championship.
After hitting a game-winning field goal in Philadelphia in January that ensured the first road playoff victory in Saints history, Graham entered training camp in a battle for the job with Dimke. Graham ultimately won out.
On Sunday at home against Carolina, he was wide left from 42 yards out in a game the Saints lost by 31 points.
Dimke has made 12-of-13 field goals in preseasons from 2012-14 spent with Detroit, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. He was 4-for-4 with the Saints while competing with Graham as New Orleans went 3-1 in the preseason.
Dimke missed a 54-yard try in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during the preseason finale, but it was wiped out with a running-into-the-kicker penalty. The ball was moved in five yards closer, and Dimke connected, preserving his perfect mark on the preseason.
Both Dimke and Graham were initially left off the first 53-man roster the Saints turned in to the NFL at the conclusion of the preseason. Graham was re-signed, and Dimke cleared waivers, leaving him free to seek other opportunities.
After bringing Graham back, Payton said that Graham had “clearly” won the battle for the kicker job.
Dimke made all 11 of his tries from under 60 yards out at the workout Wednesday, a source said.
Hocker was a seventh-round draft selection out of Arkansas for the Washington Redskins. He lasted all of training camp with Washington but was beat out by incumbent Kai Forbath at the end of the preseason.
Hocker made two of the three field goals he tried for Washington and all six of the extra points he attempted. He was 1-of-1 from between 20 and 29 yards out and 1-of-2 from between 30 and 39 yards.
It is not uncommon for teams to work out players with no intentions of signing them not only as a motivational tactic but also for the purposes of updating emergency personnel lists. Wednesday was a good indication that Hartley, Dimke and Hocker are high on any emergency list of kickers the Saints may have.