- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Graham Gano wasn’t the longest-tenured member of the Washington Redskins. He wasn’t among the team’s most popular and recognizable players. He doesn’t have 33 touchdowns, 4,703 receiving yards and a franchise-record (for tight ends) 428 receptions.

That describes Chris Cooley, whose primary connection to Gano was severed Tuesday when they were cut and became former Redskins.

But like the kickers who preceded him, and those yet to come, Gano’s tale can’t be compared to players at other positions. The job is too peculiar, too isolated and too psychological, putting Gano’s fraternity in a cruel, self-devouring clique.

One day you’re celebrating because the competition was released, suggesting that you won the training-camp battle. The next day, you’re looking for work because the Redskins signed another team’s discard and gave him your job.

The information cycle barely could keep up Tuesday. Internet searches revealed headlines that were interspersed with news about Washington cutting Neil Rackers (good for Gano) and Washington signing Billy Cundiff (bad for Gano).

“By our research over the years, we just thought that [adding Cundiff] was the best move for us at this time — that he was the best chance to win,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.

He’ll get a vociferous argument from Ravens fans, still bemoaning Cundiff’s chip-shot miss last season in the AFC title game against New England. If he nailed the 32-yard field goal attempt, the Ravens likely would have forced overtime instead of losing 23-20.

Shanahan and special teams coach Danny Smith clearly went with their gut, which is the predominant factor when making a decision on kickers.

Can his leg strength be trusted when you absolutely need a 55-yarder? Can you rely on his accuracy from 35 yards with the final seconds ticking off the clock? Can he bounce back from a crucial miss one week and split the uprights next week?

Gano didn’t provide enough affirmatives to keep his job here (though he’ll probably get another shot somewhere). He owns the second-worst field goal percentage over the past three seasons (73.8 percent), but he’s only 25. That’s too young to give up on, but not grizzled enough to be pushed aside forever.

However, kickers have nothing to complain about. They know how the game works, with only one job per team. They know in-season look-sees might be forthcoming when incumbents are slumping. They know they’ll often have company in training camp, whether it’s for serious competition or contingency-plan information.

It’s still a cool way to make a living, nowhere near as painful or dangerous as running, throwing or catching football for a living. Kickers aren’t as famous as those who lug the ball or mug the luggers, but they live the same charmed lifestyle of chartered flights, fine hotels and friendly women.

They also cross paths as they go up and down their career ladders. Cundiff, 32, beat Gano for the Ravens’ job in 2009, but not before helping the youngster change from a three-step approach to a couple of steps.

Olindo Mare, a 15-year veteran released by Carolina on Monday, kicked for three teams the past five seasons after spending a decade with Miami. Rookie Joe Nedney held the Dolphins’ job for one year before Mare beat him, but Nedney kicked for six other teams in 10 seasons. Now Justin Medlock, a journeyman kicker whose last action was in the CFL, appears to have beaten Mare for the Panthers job.

Watching Cundiff and Mare get cut might be instructive for Gano and other young kickers: Big-money contracts are nice, but beware once they’re signed. Carolina gave Mare a four-year, $12 million deal last year. Cundiff inked a five-year, $15 million contract in 2010.

Gano was due to make around $600,000 this season, so he still has room to grow if he hooks up with another team. Considering the job description and associated perks, there’s no doubt he’ll keep trying for the next couple of years at least.

He endured the ridicule of Redskins fans over his missed field goal attempts, especially the five kicks that were blocked last season. He also withstood the general lack of respect given all kickers during training camp, when they’re mostly standing around while the other 90-plus players do the hard work.

In the end, Gano wound up in the same place as Cooley and the other Redskins cut this week. That’s about as unified as a kicker can be with position players. Now it’s Cundiff’s turn.