The past few days haven’t been the best of New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham’s season.
After booting a 42-yard field goal attempt wide left in Sunday’s 41-10 loss at home to the Carolina Panthers, Graham was met at the sideline by a visibly displeased coach Sean Payton, who from a distance appeared to verbally dress down the kicker.
Three days later, the Saints (5-8) hosted four kickers available on the free-agent market and worked them out. Graham kept his job, but it was impossible not to interpret that development as a message that he was on thin ice despite having made 18 of his 20 field-goal tries so far this season and winning his first career Special Teams Player of the Month award in October.
Graham would probably prefer things weren’t so. But Thursday, he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself; the 14-year NFL veteran viewed all that had happened since his miss against Carolina as just consequences.
“That’s a part of this league — when I’m in practice, I’ve got to make my kicks in practice; and when I’m in a game, I’ve got to make my kicks in a game,” Graham said at Saints headquarters Thursday.
Turning his remarks to Payton’s confronting him immediately after the Carolina miss, Graham said, “I think (that) is expected. I’m certainly no different than any other player on the team. ... I’d probably be concerned if there wasn’t something said to me.
“I motivate myself, but I also don’t mind the fact that a coach can come down on me because I’m a part of this team, and I’m just like everybody else.”
In his media briefing Thursday, Payton discussed how a coach could be upset with a kicker’s most recent performance even if his 90 percent accuracy rate on field goals was seventh in the NFL this season, as was the case with Graham. But he claimed his team was “just working out four kickers” who had been evaluated by other teams.
It’s true that teams invite kickers to their facilities for workouts without any intention of signing them to have an idea of what they’re capable of should they need to be added in an emergency. But the timing of the workouts was eyebrow-raising, and the players brought in all had enough upside to be considered for short- or long-term purposes.
The Advocate identified three of the kickers the Saints checked out Wednesday: Garrett Hartley, Zach Hocker and Derek Dimke, according to sources.
Hartley played for the Saints from 2008-13 and helped them win Super Bowl XLIV. Hocker, a rookie seventh-round draft selection for Washington out of Arkansas, lasted all of training camp with the Redskins. And the 24-year-old Dimke auditioned well for the Saints’ kicking job this preseason before New Orleans opted for Graham.
Nonetheless, Payton said, even if it were a direct challenge to his kicker, “Shayne — he’s going to respond.”
Graham appreciated the vote of confidence from his coach but added, “It’s nothing I can control, and it’s not going to affect me ... whether they brought guys in to question my position or if they planned to bring guys in all along just to take a look for the future.”