Ain't That a Kick in The Head

This post was intended to show how the Panthers must upgrade their special teams. Phase 1 of the overhaul has already happened with the “reassignment” of former special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers to assistant defensive backs coach. Rodgers is replaced by his former assistant Bruce DeHaven. This should prove to be a step in the right direction as DeHaven has over 20 years coaching experience. The original intention of the post was to show how the biggest difference would be made when we upgraded personnel, specifically a change at the kicker position.

That’s right, this post was supposed to be one which was critical of “Golden” Graham. There is some merit to this argument, but as I did my research, it became more and more certain the best thing we could do would be to keep “Golden” Graham Gano on our roster.

“Too much pressure burst the pipe” is quote a popular saying, at least in this neck of the woods. This year the pressure seemed to get to Gano. He had some untimely misses of some rather makeable field goals, particularly against Atlanta, and against Cincinnati. Maybe as fans we had gotten spoiled. I felt as if we could count on Gano in the past and that was not the case this past season. But in looking back over the course of his career, Gano has put up some rather pedestrian number when it comes to accuracy.

Over the course of his entire career, Gano has never had a season field goal percentage greater than 90% when attempting 10 or more field goals. NEVER! Looking at just this past NFL season, there were NINETEEN other kickers with a comparable number of attempts that were at 90% or greater. Nineteen, a surprisingly high number. At this point a change at the place kicker position seemed undeniable. But as the research continued other statistics would show otherwise.

Gano was 7th in the NFL last season in field goal attempts, and he was tied for 8th in field goals made. He was also the NFL leader in touchbacks during the 2014 season and there can be no true value attributed to that. Carolina’s kick coverage unit left Panther fans holding their breath all season, but Gano’s ability of making certain the ball is not returnable goes a long way in hiding that coverage deficiency.

Gano is only 27. When looking at the kickers available in free agency there were less than a handful that would be considered an “upgrade” over Gano.

Justin Tucker from Baltimore is 25 years old. He has great leg strength and can be considered “clutch”. He is a Restricted Free Agent and IF we were to sign him away from Baltimore we would need to give a compensatory pick to the Ravens. Not gonna happen.

Stephen Gostkowski from New England is 31 years old and just coming off a Super Bowl winning season. Not likely to test the open market when he is playing for a proven winner and still has some years left to play. He is a free agent but I don’t see him going anywhere.

Matt Bryant from Atlanta is going to be 40 and is coming off a very good season one where he hit a 54 yard field goal. I have heard from Falcons beat writers the team will back up the Brinks truck to keep him. Expect somewhere in the $4 million per year range. Indeed a lot of money for a kicker but it can be argued he is the best in the game right now.

Besides these kickers there are ZERO free agents who would be considered an upgrade over Gano when factoring in age and propensity to make kickoffs unreturnable.

Looking into the draft at this point there was no one who stood out to this point. 2014 was a down year for Gano and I think the team needs to bring in some free agent kickers during training camp to push both Gano and Punter Brad Nortman. Last season both came into camp as the designated starters without any competition, and both experienced down seasons. Ron Rivera and company better not make that same mistake this year. Competition makes everyone better.   

  By that "Freak'n Puerto Rican" aka Joe Riollano