Reality: Bengals Kicker Graham Not Worth the Trouble

As the 2009 offseason began, the Bengals were faced with several pending free agents at key positions. With but one franchise player designation to hand out, the team needed to be as judicious as possible in making the call as to which player would be tagged.

Franchising a player guarantees them a hefty salary and can have far reaching cap impacts, but it also virtually guarantees that the player will be on your roster for the following season.

The team had a handful of players worthy of the tag, including WR TJ Houshmandzadeh, OT Stacy Andrews, and RB Cedric Benson. In the end, however, they went with Shayne Graham.

Shayne Graham the Placekicker.

The news seemed to be met in all corners of Bengaldom with one of two distinct reactions: Apathy or Anger. After all, franchising your kicker is probably the least fan-inspiring roster move any team can possibly make.

Why the kicker? They play very few snaps. They don’t score touchdowns or get quarterback sacks. They seem to be a dime a dozen on the free agent market, are worthless for anything else on the field, and by-and-large, there isn’t much difference between a great kicker and an average one.

For kickers with 20 or more attempts last year, the average FG percentage was a little over 85%. Kickers with less than 20 attempts were even better. Nonetheless, every team’s fans hold their collective breath whenever one of these skinny “athletes” lines up for a big kick.

Which brings me back to our Shayne and our Bengals, and why we have a franchise tag used for a placekicker.

The Bengals will tell us that Shayne has one of the highest FG percentages in the game. In fact, he is close to being the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He is consistent, a team guy, and gives back to the community.

These are points his agent, Rob Roche, would also like to accentuate. Unhappy with long-term contract negotiations, he was quoted this week as saying, “The Bengals put the franchise tag on Shayne for the 2009 season acknowledging that he is a vital part of the team.

However, we disagree as to his long term value.” Roche points to teams paying big money to kickers like the Titans and Rob Bironas, the Eagles and David Ackers, and the Seahawks and Josh Brown, all of whom have lower FG percentages than our Shayne. Roche is doing what any decent agent would: using the team’s words and actions as leverage.

But let’s be real.

The Bengals didn’t tag Graham because he is so vital. The truth is they tagged him because he was the cheapest option. The franchise cost for a kicker is 2.48 million dollars; far less than that for a WR, an OT, or a RB. Graham’s accuracy currently stands at 87.4%, a whopping 2% above average–not exactly blowing the competition away.

And is it just me, or does that average seem to sink dramatically as the importance of the kick increases? Who can forget the 39 yard miss against Pittsburgh that knocked them out of the 2006 playoffs?

How about the 47-yarder he missed against Philadelphia in overtime last year? He has a weak leg, consistently ranking near the bottom of the league in touchbacks, and his accuracy on FG attempts of 40 yards or more, for his career, is a paltry 74%.

Thus, I pose the question: Is he worth the trouble? If the team cannot sign him to a reasonable long-term contract, is letting him go next offseason a calamity? Hardly. Spending big money on a kicker not named Adam Vinatieri to me is a mistake.

I think the team can adequately replace Graham, even improve the spot with a middle round draft pick or a cheaper free agent option. The best kicker in the league last year was the Patriot’s Stephen Gostkowski, a player the team picked in the 4th round of the draft.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe I’m a little too angry or apathetic for yet another player’s contract whining. Maybe I miss TJ and think the wrong player was franchised. Maybe I’m downplaying the value of a good kicker and am placing too much emphasis on the few kicks he’s missed while ignoring the many he’s made.

Or maybe I’m just being real.

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