New Orleans is a city not accustomed to change. The Big Easy is more than just a nickname for the city itself, but also for those who call it home. When Sean Payton took over the reins for the Saints in 2006, he brought with him several consistent factors to the team: a great offense, a sketchy defense, and a quarterback that will always give you a chance to win.
But with all of these consistencies, the one aspect of the team he cannot seem to get right (besides the defense) is the kicking game. Ten years later and the story is the same.
The New Orleans Saints have had 10 kickers on their team in 10 years. That is not a typo and fans of the Saints have felt the frustration almost every season under Payton.
In 2006, Payton inherited one of the most reliable kickers of all-time in John Carney (1), but the normally reliable kicker was in the twilight of his career, and was considered old even by kicker standards, which are known to have some of the longest careers in a sport where the average career is three years. Carney was a rock solid 23-for-25 on field goals. Billy Cundiff (2) missed his only attempt that season.
2007 brought two new faces when the Saints traded a 6th round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Olindo Mare (3). The Saints did not receive a good return on investment, however, and after a below-average showing where Mare was 10-for-17; he was replaced by Martin Gramatica (4), the former Bucs kicker who celebrated each field goal as if he kicked the game winner of the Super Bowl (and it’s ironic because his brother Bill tore his ACL once for it), who was a solid 5-for-5 on attempts.
In 2008, Gramatica was welcomed back to compete for his job. He won the starting job over Taylor Mehlhaff (5), who the Saints used a sixth-round pick on in the 2008 Draft. Gramatica went a pedestrian 6-for-10 before being placed on Injured Reserve. Mehlhaff was resigned, and connected on 3 out of 4 attempts before the Saints released him and replaced him with possibly the most famous Saints field goal kicker, behind Morten Andersen – Garrett Hartley (6). Hartley was sensational, finishing the year a perfect 13-for-13. He kicked with confidence and poise, and the Saints fans breathed a sigh of relief. They had found their kicker for the next decade or more.
Hartley entered 2009 as the starter but a positive test for Adderall earned him a 4-game suspension, and a permanent spot in Payton’s doghouse as the team re-signed John Carney (who went 13-for-17). Hartley was kept on the bench. Hartley came back in Week 12, and what started as a nightmare would end in a dream season for the young kicker. His final stats for the year were a meager 9-for-11, but his 40-yard field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game sent the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl, and his three field goals of 46, 44, and 47 yards in Super Bowl XLIV earned him the distinction as the first kicker in Super Bowl history to convert three field goals of 40 yards or more.
As magical as 2009 was, the 2010 season was mired in inconsistency. Hartley missed the easy kicks in dome conditions, while nailing the long attempts in torrent weather. After missing a 29-yard field goal that would have won the game against the hated Atlanta Falcons, the Saints re-signed a familiar face in John Carney, and deactivated Hartley for two games. Carney went 5-for-6 on the season, but with injuries mounting, the Saints could not afford to carry two kickers, and Hartley resumed duties as Carney was released. Still, Hartley went on to have a solid season, going 20-for-25. Hartley was rewarded with a contract extension for his solid play as the season went forward.
Unfortunately for Hartley, a hip injury in 2011 caused him to miss the entire season, and John Kasay (7) filled in admirably for the black and gold, converting on 28 of 34 attempts.
Hartley would return as the Saints’ kicker in 2012 (18-for-22) and 2013 (22-for-30), but still exhibited frustrating moments of inconsistency. His fate was sealed after missing two field goals against the St. Louis Rams on December 15, 2013 and he was released by the Saints on December 17, 2013. Veteran kicker Shayne Graham (8) was the next in line.
Graham had a very solid 2014 season with the Saints, connecting on 19 of 22 attempts, which included a 32-yard game winner against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the 2014 playoffs. The Saints re-signed Graham to a new one-year contract. However in a puzzling move, Graham and kicker Derek Dimke were both released as part of the final roster cuts. This left the Saints with no kickers on their roster until the Saints had waived quarterback Ryan Griffin to make room for the re-signing of Graham.
The 2015 offseason further compounded the frustration in the Saints finding a reliable kicker. Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker (9) competed in training camp for the starting roster spot. Hopkins was thought to be the clear favorite to win the job, but in a surprise move the Saints released Hopkins and kept Hocker. Hocker went on to connect on 9 of 13 attempts, but the four misses sealed his fate and he was released promptly. Kai Forbath (10), the journeyman kicker from Washington was signed and finished the year 9-for-13, the exact same numbers that cost Hocker his job. Hopkins would go on to play for the Washington Redskins where he finished the year 25-for-28, with several kicks over 50 yards. The Saints had their kicker of the future, and guessed wrong. Again.
Kai Forbath enters the 2016 season as the Saints starting kicker. There will no doubt be challengers brought in to try to win the spot from Forbath, who at this point is seen as a place holder and not the solution. But for the Saints fans, their tickets are purchased and the carousel continues its dizzying spin. But as the sayings go, a broken clock is right twice a day. The blind squirrel eventually finds the nut. The New Orleans Saints will eventually find a reliable kicker.