Signs Are There Graham May Be Gone

Signs Are There Graham May Be Gone

The Bengals invited former Ohio State Buckeye and New York Jets kicker Mike Nugent to Cincinnati for a tryout last week. But who is the young and untested big-legged kicker the team also has its eye on?

It's looking more and more like Shayne Graham's record-setting Bengals career has been kicked to the curb.

The team staged tryouts on Thursday and among those the Bengals reportedly gave invitations to were former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, most recently of the Arizona Cardinals; and Brandon Coutu, a former Georgia Bulldog who was one of only two kickers picked by NFL teams in the 2008 draft.

Graham Not So Golden Of Late

Graham, an unrestricted free agent, has made 85.2 percent of his career field goal attempts, including 82.1 percent (23 of 28) in 2009. He is the most accurate kicker in Bengals history and he ranks among the top five in NFL history in field goal percentage.

But he missed two short field goal attempts in the Bengals' season-ending 24-14 Wild Card playoff loss to the New York Jets.

Some Bengals fans were so upset, one hijacked Graham's Wikipedia page (see link here: http://www.newsday.com/sports/football/glauber-s-nfl-hot-reads-1.811959/bengals-fans-are-naughty-hijack-shayne-graham-s-wikipedia-page-1.1693267).

Though Graham used to be a stand-up guy in similar situations following a tough day, he was not available to the postgame locker room media immediately after the loss to the Jets and left Paul Brown Stadium without comment.

Graham might have shed some light on his status for next season had he stuck around and helped his flagging reputation as a Bengal who holds himself accountable for play on the field. But perhaps this is a clue to Graham's status as a Bengal in 2010.

Presumably, it would have been easier for Graham to bolt the press after the Jets if he knew he'd never have to speak to the media again under those circumstances. Had Graham kicked so poorly while being in a binding contract that brought him back next season, perhaps his conscience might have swayed him to bite the bullet, answer the tough questions after the Jets' debacle and call it a day - a bad day, at that.

Graham didn't do that, and he knows better. For two years he wrote a light-weight guest column for the Cincinnati Post newspaper and talked about how he always wanted to be a journalist and how he understood "the game" between newspaper reporter and athlete. Graham, more than once in those guest columns, mentioned the importance of the professional relationship between reporter and player, for the benefit of the fan.

Nugent Scratching Cat Fever?

Nugent, a native of Centerville, Ohio, broke or tied 22 Ohio State records, including most career points (356). He made 72 of 88 field goal attempts for 81.8 percent, and 140 of 143 PATs. He was a consensus All-American, won the Lou Groza Award in 2004 as the nation's top kicker, and became the first kicker in Buckeye history to earn team most valuable player.

Nugent was selected by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2005 draft and played four seasons with the team. During the opening game of the 2008 season, Nugent injured his quadriceps following an extra point. The Jets signed Jay Feely, who performed so well he became the Jets' starter. Nugent, who eventually recovered from his injury, was forced to the bench.

An unrestricted free agent in 2009, Nugent signed a one-year contract with Tampa Bay and won the job over Matt Bryant, who was injured. After converting just two of his first six tries (two blocked) through four games with the Buccaneers, Nugent was released on Oct. 5. He worked out for Baltimore on Nov. 10, but was not signed. He eventually signed with Arizona on Dec. 16 as a temporary replacement for the injured Neil Rackers, a former Bengal. Nugent was waived by the Cardinals on January 2. He has a career field goal conversion rate of 79 percent (79 of 100).

Coutu To The Rescue?

Coutu was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round in 2008, but was waived by the team on September 5, 2009, after having never played in a regular-season game.

At the University of Georgia, Coutu kicked three field goals of over 50 yards, with his his longest going for 58. He made 94 percent of his attempts inside the 40. He never missed a PAT at Georgia and was the first kicker in school history to have over 80 percent field goal accuracy. Coutu, a Georgia native who turned down soccer scholarships at other colleges to be a walk-on for the Georgia football team, wound up being an All-Southeastern Conference pick for the Bulldogs his senior season in 2007.

Good Graham

Graham, to his credit, has been involved with charity work through Kicks For Kids, a children's charity that was founded by former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey which strives to provide opportunities to children at risk in the tri-state area. Graham also worked to gain sponsorship for a program that donated $200 for each of his field goals in 2004 to Cincinnati's FreeStore/FoodBank, and he extended that program to also cover field goals made by the Cincinnati Marshals indoor football team. He built a partnership with the Westin Cincinnati to give deserving children a chance to eat with him at the hotel's gourmet restaurant. He donated proceeds from a local kicking clinic to the YMCA. He also has worked with the Cincinnati Veterans Administration Hospital, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the IHOP Read Across America.

You would think one of the last things Graham wanted was to be found in the cross-hairs of a scrutinizing local press who helped build his reputation as a good guy while reminding fans of his record-setting exploits and spreading the good news about his charity involvement. But Graham might have felt it was easier to stiff the media after the Bengals' final game of the 2009 season if he knew in his heart he wasn't going to be back.

Graham, who turned 32 in December, became such a trusted figure by fans and franchise alike, the Bengals franchise-tagged him when he was a free agent in 2009 with a one-year deal of $2.5 million. Following two straight less-than-stellar seasons and knowing the Bengals' penchant for low-balling players with the initial offer, the dynamics are not right for Graham to re-sign in Cincinnati and make the kind of money he feels he might deserve. He is, after all, one of the most accurate field goal kickers in league history.

Ever since joining the Bengals after a shaky beginning to his NFL career, Graham has had a very successful tenure. In his first season with the team in 2003, he set a franchise record by making 22 of 25 field goal attempts (88 percent). In 2004, he narrowly missed equaling his previous mark, finishing the year 27 of 31 (87.1 percent). In 2005, Graham made 28 of 32 field goals (87.5 percent), scored a franchise record 131 points, was selected to be the kicker for the AFC Pro Bowl squad, and helped the Bengals record their first winning season since 1990.

Graham was the first kicker in franchise history ever to be selected to play in a Pro Bowl. In 2007, Graham missed his first field goal attempt of the season (a 53-yarder). But he went on to set a team record by converting 21 consecutive field goals without a miss over the season's first 10 games. This included a performance against Baltimore when he set a Bengals record by kicking seven field goals (the second-highest total in NFL history). By the end of the season, Graham set new franchise records for field goals in a season (31) and field goal percentage (91.2).

Bad Graham

Graham entered the 2009 postseason with 12 straight converted field goals and had made 17 of his last 18 attempts. But, on January 9, he missed two chip shots against the Jets, including a 28-yard attempt that would have cut the Jets' lead to 24-17 late in the fourth quarter.

Graham has made overtime kicks to win games, most recently on Oct. 4 against the Cleveland Browns, and he has failed on gut-wrenching high-profile attempts, one of the most memorable being a missed field goal late in the 2006 regular-season finale against Pittsburgh, a game the Bengals wound up losing in overtime and one that knocked them out of the playoffs.

Not only did Graham avoid the media at large after the Jets playoff loss, he stiffed a local media that's helped enable his regional popularity, for the umpteenth time; Graham rarely was there in the post-game locker room after home games this season to meet the same folks who were so helpful in carving Graham's positive early reputation, from which his charity work springboarded. When he went M.I.A. after the Jets loss, Graham forced teammates and coaches to speak for him. He made the franchise look bad. Talk about biting hands that feed.

Gone Graham?

Other clues that lead to the conclusion Graham may be gone include recent comments made by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and special teams coach Darrin Simmons, both of whom laid the playoff field goal misses at Graham's feet.

Graham, incidentally enough, is known for his ability to eat massive quantities of food and was considered to be the Bengals' undisputed eating champion. But he may be taking his appetite elsewhere since it appears his playoff performance has been hard to swallow for some key decision-makers.

"Snaps were good. Holds were good. There's no excuse. He picked a hell of a time to have a bad game. It's something the organization has to take a look at," Simmons said in a recently published report. "Obviously, Shayne's been a productive player for seven years and you have to take into account his body of work. It's been solid.

"(But) those were big kicks he missed and he gets paid to make them. We're in a bottom-line business."

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