In the end, the Saints stuck with what they know.
After letting Derek Dimke and Shayne Graham battle it out for the kicker job and going four days without someone at the position on the roster, New Orleans decided to forego other available options and bring Graham back to the team.
In a surpring move, the Saints released third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin to open the roster spot for Graham.
Injured players became eligible to go on injured reserve Tuesday afternoon and it was widely assumed fullback Erik Lorig (leg) or linebacker Khairi Fortt (leg) would be placed on it to open up a spot for a kicker, but neither move was made.
Dimke has a workout with the Jacksonville Jaguars scheduled for Friday, a source confirmed.
New Orleans released both kickers Saturday in its effort to get down to 53 players by the league’s mandatory deadline. While the battle waged on throughout training camp and coach Sean Payton maintained that he had confidence in both kickers and would feel good about going into the season with either man.
“I wouldn’t confuse the fact that we haven’t made a decision with these two with the idea that we are unhappy,” Payton said prior to the preseason finale. “I think we are really making sure we are trying to make the right decision. So, I don’t know if we are looking at outside kickers. I think a team or two is looking to see what we do.”
Graham and Dimke ran close throughout the preseason. Both kickers connected on all four of their attempts, though both finished the preseason with a hidden hiccup. Graham missed an extra-point attempt, while Dimke missed a 54-yarder in the finale that was wiped out by a roughing the kicker penalty. He converted the mulligan from 49 yards.
However, Dimke flashed a stronger leg throughout the preseason. He hit two kickers from 40 yards or longer. All of Graham’s field goals came within the 39-yard line.
When discussing the kicker battle, Payton said the coaching staff would evaluate distance, efficiency, and get-off time when making the decision. Graham held a small edge on the final point.
Graham, the incumbent kicker, posted an average get-off time of .87 seconds. Dimke came in slightly slower at .96 seconds timing from when the ball is spotted to when the kick is made.
The difference appears minor, though each tick on the clock can be the difference between getting a kick off and having it blocked. But both men appear to have fallen within what is considered the acceptable time range.
Kicking coach Jamie Kohl, who works with many professional and collegiate kickers, including Dimke, said that any kick that gets off under 1.3 seconds from the moment the ball is snapped is considered acceptable.
Graham signed with the Saints in December after Garrett Hartley was let go by the team. He connected on both of his field goals during the regular season, and further endeared himself to the locals by hitting all four of his attempts during a playoff game against the Eagles in frigid temperatures.
But all the goodwill was undone in a season ending loss to the Seattle Seahawks when Graham missed a pair of field goals from 45 and 48 yards. Graham, who has made 85.5 percent of his field goals during the regular season, is 13-of-17 in the postseason. Those final misses last season likely led to the decision to bring Dimke in as competition this offseason.
Griffin was battling with Luke McCown for the backup quarterback spot and while he had more spectacular moments, McCown was more steady throughout the preseason.
McCown was 26-of-43 passing for 240 yards with three touchdowns and one interception this preseason. In the preseason finale against the Colts, he played one series and completed all of his passes for 29 yards with a touchdown.
Griffin, meanwhile, struggled against the Colts and finished his preseason 48-of-77 passing with three touchdowns and one interception.
Griffin will now be subject to waivers and will become a free agent if he goes unsigned.