Reporting David Elfin
Graham Gano had only heard from Shayne Graham, whom he beat out in 2011, and Neil Rackers, whom he outlasted yesterday to remain with the Redskins, about the vagabond existence of most NFL kickers. However, the 25-year-old who was Washington’s kicker the past 36 games found out firsthand this morning how hard that life can be.
A day after being congratulated by Rackers for winning their competition, Gano was also cut as the Redskins signed kicker Billy Cundiff, who had been released by the Ravens yesterday in favor of rookie Justin Tucker.
The 32-year-old Cundiff is certainly more qualified than Gano, the NFL’s third-least accurate kicker the past three seasons despite a very strong leg. Cundiff made All-Pro in 2010 when he nailed 26 of 29 field goal tries and matched an NFL record with 40 touchbacks, earning an impressive five-year, $14.7 million contract with $3 million guaranteed. However, Cundiff’s leg wasn’t as accurate or strong in 2011 when he missed nine of 37 attempts, five of them from 50 yards or beyond. Infamously in Baltimore, he was wide left on a 32-yard try that would have forced overtime in the AFC Championship Game at New England.
So even though he didn’t miss a kick during preseason and even though Ravens coach John Harbaugh said “Billy had a great camp, the best he has had with us,” he was whacked in favor of a rookie.
And now Gano is an ex-Redskin after not even getting the chance to try a field goal during preseason. If anyone can sympathize, it’s Cundiff, who signed with Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New Orleans in 2006, Atlanta in 2007, Kansas City in 2008 and Detroit in 2009 while getting into just five games with the Saints. And after making all six of his field goal attempts for Cleveland in 2009, Cundiff was cut again before finally finding what appeared to be a long-term home in Baltimore that November.
The small world of NFL kickers is also evident in Cundiff’s back story. After winning the job in Dallas as a rookie free agent in 2002, he was waived/injured in the summer of 2005. The Cowboys signed ex-Redskin Jose Cortez, who was then replaced by future Redskin Shaun Suisham, who was then cut in favor of Cundiff before the latter’s odyssey began the next year. In Green Bay, Cundiff lost out to Dave Rayner, whom Suisham would fend off in Washington in the summer of 2009 only to be released that December when they signed Gano.
Whew! It wasn’t always that way for kickers, at least in Washington. From 1969-94 (with the exception of mid-1986 through 1987), the Redskins employed just three kickers, Curt Knight, Mark Moseley and Chip Lohmiller. But since coach Norv Turner soured on Lohmiller and cut him in the summer of 1995, the Redskins have used 17, count ‘em 17, kickers not counting the multiple tours of duty for aging Eddie Murray and youngster Nick Novak.
For those of you scoring at home, Washington’s other kickers during the past 17 years were Scott Blanton, Chris Jacke, Cary Blanchard, Brett Conway, Kris Heppner, Michael Husted, Scott Bentley, Cortez, James Tuthill, John Hall, Ola Kimrin, Jeff Chandler, Suisham and Gano.
Of course if Turner hadn’t cut a certain rookie free agent kicker after he hit the goalposts twice from beyond 50 yards in his Redskins debut in Seattle in 1998, the last 11 names on the list probably wouldn’t be there. The 23-year-old was David Akers, who has gone on to make six Pro Bowls including last season with San Francisco when he made 85 percent of his field goal tries. Only 16 players in NFL history have scored more points than Akers.
Sometimes it helps to have a little patience even in the league that players call Not For Long (NFL). However, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan apparently ran out of patience with Gano this summer even as he was beating out Rackers, so the kicking door revolves again. Welcome to Washington, Mr. Cundiff. I urge you to consider renting.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin