For Graham, Saints were worth the wait

METAIRIE, La. -- Kicker Shayne Graham had never gone this long without a job since he first earned a spot with an NFL team in 2001. But it was worth the wait.

"I don't think you could really ask to be in a different situation," Graham, 36, said of landing with the New Orleans Saints on the verge of a playoff run.

"I think everyone wants to be a part of something that matters," Graham continued. "So when you come in and you're put in this position, I think it's the best place you could be in. You want to come in, you want to make a difference and you want to matter. Especially when there's something on the line, you know that it makes it that much more special for you."

Graham, who replaced longtime Saints kicker Garrett Hartley, is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, having converted 85.4 percent of his field goal attempts in 12 NFL seasons. And he finished strong last year with the Houston Texans -- making a perfect 6-of-6 field goal attempts in the playoffs, including a career-long 55-yarder.

But for whatever reason, Graham has had trouble sticking on an NFL roster since ending a seven-year run with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-2009. Graham has now been with seven other teams since then. His 2012 season in Houston was his only full-time gig.

Graham signed with the Cleveland Browns this past offseason, but he was released after the preseason. He then briefly signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a potential injury replacement in September but never appeared in a game.

"It's hard when you feel like you've done well and then you're twiddling your thumbs for the next few months after that. But that's the game, and I'm fortunate just to be considered for a job in this league," said Graham, who said he has been training at a facility in Houston that works with college kickers and free agents. "When you're sitting at home and you're training and you still feel confident and you're still performing at a level you feel that you're able to do this job for several more years, you don't want to give up. I've been training just as hard as if I was on a team, if not harder. So I don't feel like there's any physical concern.

"I've been in this situation before. The goal posts are the same size, the ball is same football. You still just have your job to do, and luckily there's no playbook to learn. You come in and kick and that's what you do."

Saints coach Sean Payton said Graham's workout last month was an even bigger factor than his past experience. Graham tried out along with fellow kickers Neil Rackers, Derek Dimke, Brandon McManus and John Potter at the time. But the Saints weren't yet ready to replace Hartley.

The Saints finally decided to cut Hartley after he missed field goals of 36 and 26 yards in Sunday's 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"His workout was better," Payton said. "He seemed to be a little more accurate, a little stronger. He was clearly better. … His experience, obviously, is helpful and is a plus."