With Graham now a potential free agent and everyone expecting the Bengals to let him go after he blew two short field-goal attempts in the Wild Card loss to the Jets, Rayner is approaching cautiously with the wisdom of a guy that has seen it all in 43 games and 42 field goals with five teams. The Bengals have indicated they’re going to try and sign their most accurate kicker in history before free agency opens March 5, but they haven’t been able to ink a long-term deal with Graham for the past few years so they are getting their ducks in a row.
“No one has told me anything about Shayne’s situation,” Rayner said Tuesday from his home in Rochester, Mich. after his agent confirmed he’d signed a two-year deal. “I’d be lying if I said I hope he signs back. I wouldn’t have signed here if I didn’t think there was a chance he was leaving. But the guy has had a great career here and if anyone deserves to get a look at a big contract, it’s him.”
You can’t knock Rayner for making the call in Cincinnati. At 27 he knows it’s time to put down roots after a journeyman’s career that began out of Michigan State in the sixth round of the 2005 draft when the Colts took him to be the kickoff man for Mike Vanderjagt and most recently stopped in the 2009 preseason when what he calls “a groin injury” prevented him from taking the Redskins job.
“We’re all looking for it: That kind of situation where you’re in the same place for five, 10 years,” he said. “I think I can do that. It wouldn’t surprise me if Shayne got a big contract and went somewhere for five or 10 more years.”
Rayner, a Michigan native and Big Ten product, likes the fit here. From the people to the elements. When he showed up last Friday at sunny and freshly-plowed but arctic Paul Brown Stadium for his tryout, he might as well have been kicking in Miami Beach.
After besting three others in the Golden Graham Sweepstakes, the experience reminded Rayner why he feels like the Bengals were a good fit even before agent Paul Sheehy called with the latest opportunity. He played with guys like defensive tackle
“I was really comfortabIe when I was there a year ago,” Rayner said, recalling his two-game stint in 2008. “I’m a Midwest guy, blue-collar, and Cincinnati is a great town like that. My whole family is from Michigan and so is my wife’s. Plus, I played with a couple of guys in college who were there and I know that the special teams coach (Darrin Simmons) knows what to do with kickers and punters.”
Oh yeah. The tryout?
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. We left Detroit and it was snowing,” Rayner said. “I had visions I was going to be kicking in the snow and wind, but they had the field nice and cleared off and it was OK. You just had to realize the ball wasn’t going to go as far. There were four of us and we all had the same conditions.”
After his rookie year kicking off for the Colts, Rayner was the kicker for the 8-8 Packers in 2006 and after he made 74 percent of his 35 field-goal tries he moved on to stops in San Diego, Kansas City and Cincinnati before he appeared to land the Redskins job last preseason.
“I would have bet everything I owned that I won that job, but then I hurt my groin and I wouldn’t have signed myself after I got injured like that,” Rayner said. “But then after I healed, it was hard being at home on Sundays watching guys around the league miss kick after kick and my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook.”
That’s how Rayner got his shot in Cincinnati in 2008. After Graham hurt his groin covering an onside kick in Dallas on Oct. 5, Rayner filled in against the Jets, of all teams, and the Steelers. He made his only field-goal try, a 26-yarder against Pittsburgh, as well as all three extra points.
Overall, he’s 42-for-59 for 71 percent, and he’s 13-for-19 from between both 30 and 39 yards and 40 and 49 yards for 68 percent. Those aren’t Graham numbers, but Rayner also knows it is when you make them. And in that one season he kicked in all 16 games, ’06 in Green Bay, he was 78 percent inside 50.
“I’m anxious to get in there and see what I can do if I’ve got a full year,” Rayner said. “Right coach, right team, right situation and you have to see what can happen.”
Rayner said he signed his two-year deal this week, which the Bengals won’t announce until they have it in hand.