Graham Gano appeared to win the placekicking job Monday. A day later he was gone.
The Redskins signed veteran Billy Cundiff (first reported by ESPN) and released Gano (first reported by ESPN980); one move wasn’t surprising but the speed of the other was. Coach Mike Shanahan likes to bring in competition, especially for Gano, who had not proven himself a top kicker over the course of a whole season. But Cundiff, entering his ninth season, is a career 76.7 percent kicker out of 172 attempts. Baltimore cut him Sunday in favor of rookie Justin Tucker.
One reason Cundiff was cut, according to reports: he made just one of six field goals from 50 yards or longer last season. He was 28 of 37 last year, a 75.7 percent rate.
Cundiff also missed a 32-yard field goal in the Ravens’ 23-20 AFC Championship Game loss to New England last season. However, he made his 11 other field goals in the playoffs and on the 32-yarder the special teams unit was rushed onto the field. And he was seven of eight on fourth quarter kicks last season (Gano was nine of 10). Cundiff did make 87 percent of his kicks under 50 yards last season, but Gano missed one attempt from 49 yards or less in 2011. Gano made 75.6 percent of his kicks for the season.
Both have good legs on kickoffs, though Cundiff rates an edge: Cundiff had 44 touchbacks, which was tied for second in the AFC last year. He had 40 the previous year, when they kicked off from the 35-yard line. Gano had 32 touchbacks last season but only nine in 2010.
It’s not just because Baltimore attempted more kickoffs, either. Cundiff had a touchback on 57.9 percent of his kickoffs compared to 43.8 for Gano. And Cundiff attempted just eight more kickoffs. Keep in mind, however, that the Redskins allowed just 20.8 yards per kick return so this issue was the least of their worries entering the season.
In the five seasons where Cundiff has attempted at least 25 kicks, he’s made more than 80 percent only once.That one time occurred in 2010 when he made 26 of 29 attempts and earned a Pro Bowl berth.
But Gano has a career percentage of 73.8 (out of 80 attempts). He made 31 of 41 kicks last season and had five blocked, which even Shanahan said were not his fault. Gano made 14 of his last 15 kicks, with the lone miss a block. Had he made all five of those blocked kicks, Gano’s 86-percent average would have tied him for 12th in the NFL, a solid but not great season.
Ironically, Gano worked out with Cundiff two offseasons ago as he switched from a three-step approach to a two-step one.
Why not have a one-game kicking competition? On Monday, when asked why he cut Neil Rackers with one game remaining, Shanahan said, “We’ve been doing this for a long time. If we felt one week or one game would be the difference then we would have waited until it came to the game. We didn’t feel the game would be any different at all looking at the stats over the last few months.”
Clearly that logic applied to Rackers and now Gano.
Shanahan also was lukewarm when it came to talking about Gano on Monday, saying he had won the statistical battle over Rackers. But he stopped short of any ringing endorsement when asked how Gano had improved from a year ago.
“We’ll find out in game situations,” Shanahan said.
Another thing Shanahan said: “There are always a lot of possibilities that can occur before the first game at every position.”