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Saints stayed committed to Shayne Graham

METAIRIE, La. -- Although the New Orleans Saints risked losing kicker Shayne Graham on the open market when they released him on Saturday, it sounds like they remained committed to him all along.

Coach Sean Payton gave Graham a ringing endorsement when discussing why the Saints re-signed Graham on Tuesday and chose him over challenger Derek Dimke this summer.

"We felt like he won that battle, and we felt like it was pretty clear," Payton said.

Payton confirmed that the Saints decided to release and then re-sign Graham to "buy time" until they could use their short-term injured reserve designation on rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt, which wasn't allowed until Tuesday.

As it turned out, the Saints wound up waiving quarterback Ryan Griffin on Tuesday, then they used the I.R. designation on Fortt on Wednesday. Regardless, Payton's point was that Graham never strayed far from their plans.

"Now listen, when a termination happens, it happens," Payton said, indicating that Graham could have wound up signing elsewhere. "But clearly he was someone we felt won that competition. We felt both those guys (Graham and Dimke) did a good job of handling it. But I thought he had a real good camp."

Graham, meanwhile, said he didn't know for sure that the Saints would call him back after he was released Saturday. But he remained optimistic since they told him he had a good camp and told him to "be ready" in case they did want to bring him back.

"I felt a vote of confidence, but I know the way this business goes, you never know," Graham said. "That's why I play, managers manage and coaches coach."

Graham, 36, showed some inconsistency during training camp practices. But he was mostly solid in the preseason games. He made all four of his field-goal attempts, and his only miss came on one of the experimental 33-yard extra-point attempts in Week 1.

Graham said he felt good about his camp, saying that he made close to 90 percent of his kicks.

"That's really pretty good. That's typically what I'm shooting for in training camp, 90 percent or higher, pushing right on that borderline," Graham said.

Throughout the summer, I consistently projected that Graham would wind up winning the Saints' kicker job because I knew they liked what they saw at the end of last season when he was so clutch in the playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles (making 4 of 4 field goals, including the game-winner). And I knew the Saints didn't fault Graham too much for his two difficult misses in tough weather conditions in the playoff loss at Seattle.

However, my confidence in that prediction started to waver when Payton was clearly unhappy about the missed extra point. And then Graham was unable to clearly seal the deal during the final week of practice, when he and Dimke both missed two field goals during a windy practice that included spirited kicker competitions.

Ultimately, though, I understand and agree with the Saints' thinking on Graham. After going through so many highs and lows with kickers over the past eight years, the Saints have had their most consistent success with steady veteran types like John Carney and John Kasay -- guys who don't get too high or too low. And they're hoping Graham can be that type of player.

It probably wouldn't hurt for Graham to get off to a solid start, though, to make sure he remains on that solid footing.