CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Graham Gano could be the starting kicker for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday — or he may be traded this week.
The 30-year-old Gano doesn’t know exactly what his future holds as the Panthers prepare for the season opener at San Francisco. Carolina kept two kickers on its 53-man roster — seventh-round draft pick Harrison Butker is the other — but is actively shopping Gano.
“I’ve never been on the 53 with two kickers, but I’m excited to be here,” said Gano, the team’s starting kicker since 2012.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to be here this week. That’s how I’m preparing for the job. I feel like I’m hitting the ball great and just excited to be here.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’s leaning toward playing “the more experienced kicker” against the 49ers if he’s still on the roster, which would be Gano.
Interim general manager Marty Hurney called it a fluid situation on Sunday, but wouldn’t directly say if he’s shopping either or both kickers. Nor did he have any timetable on when the Panthers might decide on a kicker.
“That’s a hard question to answer. You see how it goes,” Hurney said. “Right now we feel like we’ve been able to do it. It could be a long time or a short time.”
Gano missed some big field goals for Carolina last season, perhaps none more important than the season opener at Denver at the end of regulation. Had Gano connected on the 50-yard attempt, the Panthers could have gotten at least partially even for their Super Bowl loss to the Broncos and it’s possible the season might have turned out differently.
Instead, he hooked the kick wide left, the Panthers lost the game and started the season 1-5. Carolina finished 6-10 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Gano also missed three field goals in the season finale against Tampa Bay, prompting former general manager Dave Gettleman to draft Butker in the seventh round.
Gano has outkicked Butker at training camp, but has clanked two 50-yard field goals off the post during games.
“It’s just unlucky,” Gano said. “I’ve just got to come out to practice and work and get better.”
If the Panthers were to cut Butker he would have a chance to join the practice squad but would first have to clear waivers. There’s no guaranteeing that would happen.
There’s always competition in the NFL, but in this case it’s a little different. Both kickers know that ultimately it will be either one or the other who sticks around in Carolina.
Still, Gano said it hasn’t been an awkward situation, calling Butker a “good kid.”
Gano has been Carolina’s kicker since 2012 and his focus right now is on retaining that situation in the midst of a highly competitive environment.
“As long as I’m here, I’m going to be here. Coach Rivera always says be where your feet are and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m going to keep preparing like I’m playing this week. And as far as I know, I am.”