The value of a kicker in Cincinnati is still unknown as the Bengals were unable to strike a long-term deal with franchise-tagged place-kicker Shayne Graham, before the time to negotiate expired on Wednesday.
Shugah Shayne will earn a cool $2.5 million for the upcoming season, the average of the top-5 paid kickers throughout the league. The Bengals will have the chance to lock him up long-term again when the season ends. They also have the option to franchise-tag him again next year.
Many casual spectators are shocked that a team would ever slap the franchise-tag on a kicker, but these little guys are earning some decent contracts these days (in fairness, every NFL kicker is bigger than me). Titans kicker Rob Bironas just signed a deal that gives him $3 million a year. Is Golden Graham worth that kinda cheese?
But should the Bengals have signed him to it anyway?
When the collective bargaining agreement expires after 2010 and the salary cap disappears after this season, Mike Brown will have the chance to sign someone cheaper and pass over Graham altogether. Under that kind of thinking, it seems unlikely that they would tag him in consecutive years. That would leave the team with no kicker at all ending the 2009 season and that makes me kind of nervous.
Graham struggles from outside 40 yards, he’s missed some big ones and he hasn’t shown that he can consistently kick-off. But he’s money inside 40 yards, he’s made some big ones too and he’s an outstanding community figure.
Some kickers fall apart fast. Mike Vanderjagt was an All-Pro with the Colts, but then got mouthy about Peyton Manning on a Canadian talk show and ruined his karma.
Other kickers are reborn with a new team. The Bengals suffered through some nauseating field-goal attempts shanked off the foot of Neil Rackers, only to watch him join Arizona and make the most field goals in a season ever.
Then there are those kickers who just can’t stop kicking: Gary Anderson, Morten Andersen, John Carney. These men are like those who never retire because they just don’t know what they’d do with themselves all day. In retirement, they go around kicking things they spot on the ground and running around chest-bumping people. It’s sad, really.
Mr. Graham has all the symptoms of falling into this last category, so he might as well fade into his NFL dementia with the Bengals. When another quality kicker comes down the pike for the team, they can afford to cut Graham if they have to, but until then, a long-term deal would insure that at least a manageable player holds down such a crucial position.