The Carolina Panthers didn’t think they would have to make a roster decision on veteran kicker Graham Gano when training camp opener, but Gano’s future with the team could be in doubt as 53-man roster cuts approach. Gano has been sidelined with a plant leg injury that kept him out of the last four games of last season, which the injury still stems nine months later.
Gano has yet to kick this preseason for the Panthers.
“It is uneasy, to be honest with you,” Rivera said on Graham’s availability this preseason, via Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer. “Because again, you want him to be able to kick to make sure everything’s fine. We’ll know hopefully in the next day or two.”
Further complicating the scenario is how well backup kicker Joey Slye has performed this preseason. Slye has converted all six of his field-goal attempts, five of which have been over 40 yards (two over 50). The Panthers signed Slye earlier this month when they knew Gano wouldn’t be available to kick in the preseason. The former walk-on at Virginia Tech is the school’s all-time leading scorer but went just 15-for-22 on field-goal attempts in his senior season, leading towards fighting for a job with several NFL organizations. He’s had brief stints with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but hasn’t received an opportunity to kick in games until signing with Carolina.
Gano is just a year removed from coming off a Pro Bowl season, which he converted a league-high 96.7 percent of his field goals, despite failing to make a 50-plus yard kick during the year. His numbers were down in 2018, going 14 of 16 on field-goal attempts (87.5%), but was 3 of 4 on kicks over 50 yards.
The Panthers owe Gano $3.68 million this year, the second year of a four-year deal he signed prior to the 2018 season. The Panthers would pay more against the cap by cutting Gano, but they could dangle him as trade bait if they wish to keep Slye. This is where the Panthers would like to see Gano kick this week in case they plan on trading Slye to a kicker-needy team instead of releasing him with no compensation.
“Hopefully what’ll happen is, in the next day or two as he continues going through his process of working back to health, we’ll know whether he’s going to kick or not,” Rivera said. “If he’s able to, he most certainly will. That’s for sure.”
The Panthers have a decision ahead of them, but Gano’s availability to kick this week will make that decision easier.