Eisenberg: Opposition To Graham Signing Is Baffling

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So let me get this straight: The Ravens sign Shayne Graham, the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, to a contract for 2010, and some people aren't happy about it?

That seemed to be the case on some web sites and talk shows after the signing was announced yesterday, and while yes, the naysayers were a minority, they made their presence known.

The concern revolves around Graham's last game with his former team in Cincinnati; he missed a pair of easy kicks in a home playoff loss to the Jets, helping hasten the Bengals' demise. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Thursday that Graham has "demons" about the misses, which have led some to label him as a guy who can't kick in the clutch.

My response? If we're labeling a guy as soft under pressure because of his playoff record as a Bengal, well, that's not really much of a sample size, is it? The Bengals participated in exactly two playoff games during Graham's seven years with the team. Graham made his only attempt, a 23-yarder, in the first game, a wild card loss to the Steelers in 2006. Then he missed from 35 and 28 yards in January in a wild card loss to the Jets.

Look, there's no defending the latter, a startlingly shaky performance that cost the Bengals dearly. It wasn't a good day for Graham, 32, as he conceded yesterday when he met with reporters at the Ravens' rookie camp OTA.

But when a guy converts 177 of 204 field goal attempts, as Graham did in Cincinnati from 2003-2009, that body of work should outweigh his three playoff attempts as a gauge of his likely overall usefulness.

Graham is darn close to an elite kicker. His 82-percent conversion rate (23 for 28) during the 2009 regular season was his lowest as a Bengal, but it's still a higher percentage than Billy Cundiff has ever registered in any season. Graham was a combined 52 of 58 in 2007 and 2008, as dependable as any kicker in the league.

Is Graham coming to the Ravens with something to prove in the clutch? Absolutely. And with many observers picking the Ravens to win the AFC North in 2010, it's likely he'll get his opportunity, provided he can beat out Cundiff in their preseason kicking competition.

The fact that they'll have such a competition is why any opposition to Graham's signing baffles me. The Ravens are doing what a playoff-caliber team is supposed to do, setting up a high-caliber training-camp duel that should bring out the best in both kickers, and in the end, benefit the team.

It's a much better situation for the Ravens than a year ago, when they had youngsters Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano competing to be their kicker. Those two had converted exactly one NFL field goal between them at the time. Graham and Cundiff have 274 between them. Frankly, it's a challenge to frame the situation as anything other than a win-win. If Graham pushes Cundiff to perform so much better that Cundiff earns the job, the Ravens benefit. And if Graham ends up with the job and performs at his customary level, well, that's to the Ravens' benefit as well.

Cundiff did a nice job as an emergency patch when Hauschka came up short last season, and if Graham hadn't been signed, Cundiff probably could have done the job again in 2010. He is going to make a majority of the kicks the team needs.

But Graham is more experienced and successful, and he's the favorite to win the job. His presence represents a make-good from the Ravens on their pledge to be as strong as possible at every position.

True, the signing seemingly officially closes the door on any possibility of Matt Stover returning. But it's time for the team – and the town – to turn that page. Yes, Stover had a fantastic career here. He is one of the finest Ravens ever, and a first-class person. But he is 42. His last field goal of 50 or more yards was in 2006. The Ravens need new blood at the position. And they just got their man.

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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