Panthers kicker, Graham Gano, has been medically cleared to compete following surgery on his heel this offseason. In Week 14, Gano suffered a foot injury during a kickoff, but still competed and somehow managed to finish out the season. It’s safe to say that Gano’s performance was indeed impacted by the injury to his heel — over his final three games, he completed just 66.7 percent of his field goals, missing three along with an extra point.
Gano underwent surgery in January, but the Panthers needed an insurance policy and drafted Harrison Butker out of Georgia Tech in the seventh-round. Butker is the Yellow Jackets all-time leading scorer and was a third-team All-ACC pick in 2016 after connecting on 94.4 percent of his field goal attempts and nailing all 46 of his extra point tries. Butker also forced 54 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs.
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Gano will only be 30-years-old the 2017 season kicks off. If Adam Vinatieri and Sebastian Janikowski have proven anything about kickers, age is merely a number. Gano’s problem has been with his overall performance. In 2014 the Panthers ranked 20th in field-goal percentage with 82.9 percent, in 2015 they were tied for 19th hitting 83.3 percent, and in 2016 they ranked 26th connecting on merely 78.9 percent.
Gano has been the kicker for Carolina since 2012 and is entering the final year of his contract with the team. It is entirely feasible that the Panthers could decide to cut Gano prior to training camp in order to free up $3.25 million in cap space.
Carolina opens OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) on May 23 and run until June 9, with mandatory minicamp following June 13 through 15. Now that he has been medically cleared, Gano appears happy to be able to kick without any pain in time for OTA’s. He will most certainly need to prove his health and give the coaching staff reason to believe he can improve upon his terrible 2016 campaign if he is going to hold off the rookie Butker.