The three-way kicker battle is now a two-way competition.
The Saints announced Tuesday that they released veteran kicker Shayne Graham, leaving the team with Zach Hocker and Dustin Hopkins at the position.
Taking Graham’s place on the roster is wide receiver Lance Lewis.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound receiver spent last season on the San Francisco 49ers practice squad after originally hooking on with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2012. Lewis also spent some time with the Dallas Cowboys.
Graham made 19-of-22 field goals last season and earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors in October.
Despite re-signing him to a one-year deal at the league minimum salary with a $10,000 signing bonus, the Saints have appeared determined to make a change at kicker for several months.
In December, when coach Sean Payton made a number of roster moves in an apparent attempt to send a message to his locker room, New Orleans signed Hopkins to the practice squad. It was a clear message to Graham, who missed a field goal against the Carolina Panthers from 42 yards out and again against the Chicago Bears from 51 yards in Weeks 14 and 15, in the games before the transaction.
At the time, it appeared Hopkins was the only kicker on an NFL practice squad. New Orleans worked out several other kickers at the time, including Hocker, who was signed over the weekend after impressing during rookie minicamp.
Graham heard about the team signing Hocker on Monday morning and said that he was not going to worry about a third kicker being brought in.
“I heard this morning,” Graham said. “Whatever that is, I have no control over that. All I can do is take care of myself. All those decisions are upstairs, they’re not mine to make.”
Graham also missed a pair of field goals in a 2013 playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks after being signed late in the year to replace Garrett Hartley. He battled Derek Dimke for the job in training camp last year, and ultimately won out.
After re-signing this offseason, it appeared Graham would be given the opportunity to battle Hopkins for the job in training camp. But after signing Hocker, it became clear that someone was likely going to be released. A third kicker would have taken repetitions from one of the front-runners for the job and a roster spot from another position.
The battle will now be between Hopkins and Hocker.
A former Florida State player, Hopkins was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round of 2013 draft, but missed his rookie season due to a groin injury. He was released by Buffalo in August.
“He was someone we had a pretty good draft grade on,” Payton said after signing him. “He got injured in his first year but we felt that he kicked well (in his workout).”
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.
Malcome Kennedy is returning to New Orleans’ injured reserve.
The undrafted rookie receiver went unclaimed on waivers after being waived with an injury designation on Monday, meaning he returns to the Saints.
Kennedy, a former Texas A&M player, suffered a fractured foot during rookie minicamp, according to a source.
The NFL Players Association wants rookie minicamps to focus on rookies.
Citing 14 teams, including the Saints, the NFLPA filed a grievance against over clubs unsigned players with NFL players to tryout and work alongside rookies who are trying to make the league or recently broke in, according to Fox Sports.
As a result, the NFL and NFLPA have reached an agreement limiting the number of unsigned veterans who can try out at rookie minicamp to five players.
The Saints had a handful of veteran players at their recent camp, including wide receiver Josh Morgan, a seven-year veteran, who signed a deal with New Orleans this week.