Sometimes it’s good when your team’s kicker is in the spotlight.
There’s nothing special team coordinators love more than pinning the opponent deep in their own territory or forcing a back team error with a deft rebounding kick. And watching that big leg sail the pigskin 40-50 yards through the air and send the posts to the game-winning field goal is certainly one of the most nerve-wracking yet exciting moments in football.
However, the 2021 season saw the New York Giants see their kicker, Graham Gano, mentioned a little too often for someone to East Rutherford’s liking, as he was their only source of points on the scoreboard in a few games.
A 13-year NFL veteran, Gano grew up just outside of Pensacola, Florida in a small town called Cantonment as part of a family whose lineage is filled with military veterans, including his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. He attended JM Tate High School where he was a talented and successful two-sport athlete, playing soccer and running at track and field.
On the griddle, Gano was an All-American first-team selection of United States today and was ranked the third best kicker in the nation. The top finishes carried over to the track, where Gano was one of the state’s top sprinters, winning three separate state titles in the 100, 200, and 400 meter sprints in 2005.
Gano was a kicker and punter for Florida State University Seminoles from 2005 to 2008, where he was named an All-American by multiple media outlets in his senior year.
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That same season, awards continued to flow at both the FBS and ACC levels. Gano finished the 2008 season first in the FBS for field goal conversions, field goal conversion percentage (one of two kickers to convert over 90%) and 50-yard field goals made.
He also ranked for the ACC in field goals per game (2.2), field goal percentage (92.3%, which is still a record), points scored (105), and points per game (9.5) and eventually won the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best kicker.
Gano would enter the 2009 NFL Draft but was undrafted and eventually signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens later that year. He was released by the Ravens and played for the UFL’s Las Vegas Locomotives, the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers (a member of the Super Bowl 50 runner-up) before joining the Giants in August 2020.
As a Giant, Gano’s leg has relied heavily on it to pick up points on the board amid a multi-year slump of inefficient offense. In 2020, Gano played in all 16 games and had a near-perfect season. He converted 31 of 32 field goal attempts (96.9%), with his only miss coming from over 50 yards. He was 3-3 on 50-yard field goals in the Giants’ Week 5 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
In the 2021 season, Gano’s efficiency waned a bit, but the Giants boasted one of the worst offenses in the NFL in several scoring categories, and the 35-yard old became their top scorer. In all 17 games, Gano converted 29 of 33 (87.9%) of his field goal attempts and scored 104 points, a tally that was followed by a dismal 24 points scored by running back Saquon Barkley.
This offseason, Gano has been in the spotlight for his offfield dealings with new Giants rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. The team’s first-round draft pick began negotiations with the Pro Bowl kicker for his #5 jersey, the same number Thibodeaux wore in college for the Oregon Ducks.
After what Thibodeaux called “a whole lot of negotiation,” the two parties agreed to a jersey swap if Thibodeaux donated $50,000 to a Gano charity. The No. 5 overall pick was signed and will now wear that number, while Gano will inherit the No. 9, last worn by former Giants punter Riley Dixon.
what he brings
When it’s not obvious, Gano provides the Giants’ special teams with a consistent, long-range leg that can boost the team’s offensive production and come through in the big moments when needed.
Last season, Gano carried over a streak of 30 straight field goals from the 2020 season and increased that to 37 before missing a 35-yarder against the Saints in Week 4 to finish fourth in the NFL with Jason Myer to achieve a record.
Over the past two seasons, Gano has hit combined 25/26, 14/14, and 12/16 from distances of 30+, 40+, and 50+ yards, respectively. Under the right conditions — as the Giants learned in 2018 when Gano was with the Panthers — the 6ft 2 kicker can hit the game-winning shot from up to 60 yards away.
Gano has converted at least 79 percent of his field goal attempts since 2016. He has been a dependable member of the special teams for every organization he has played for and has missed just over four games in three of his pro seasons, most recently in 2019 when he missed the entire season after failing in the Panthers’ preseason had hurt.
In November 2020, the Giants signed Graham Gano to a three-year, $14 million contract extension that runs through the 2023 season. His contract terms include a base salary of $1.12 million with a prorated bonus of $1.79 million; however, nothing is guaranteed by this contract.
Gano’s 2022 cap is $2.91 million. If he doesn’t make the roster this season (highly unlikely), the Giants would save $1.55 million for the cap but charge a $4.47 million dead money fee.
Over the past two seasons, the Giants have learned how valuable Gano is to their special teams and offensive production. Even at 35, he had his second-best kicking season as a member of the Giants in 2021 and is still considered one of the best boots in the league.
The Giants’ focus on special teams this offseason needs to be bolstering the overall unit and surrounding their veteran kicker with a group of young playmakers who can capitalize on Gano’s skillful kick placement and chase balls down the field.
It’s not unreasonable to see the Giants add a second kicker to their roster for training camp (or to share some of the workload) in the spirit of competition, nor is it unfathomable for another player to have a spot just in case in the training team.
However, Gano’s injuries aside in 2022, it’s more than fair to assume he’s already had the job suspended for the upcoming season.