First things first, I have to give credit to Grandmaster Wang for inspiration on this topic. In an exchange we had he presented and echoed a lot of the same feelings I had on this topic. Wang head’s up the Saints themed blog moosedenied, and if you haven’t been over there yet I suggest you check it out for endless entertainment.
The NFL is a sport where durability is a at a premium. Based on the physicality of the sport injuries are an unfortunate side effect that’s not only prevalent, but expected. It’s not a matter of if guys will get hurt, but who and when. Counting on a player to produce a 16 game season is a dangerous proposition and more times than not it’s unrealistic. This applies to every single position on the field with the exception of your placekicker and punter. These guys may be most brittle, but they also experience little to no contact whatsoever. With only 53 spots on the roster, carrying anything more than 2 kicking specialists is a pain and a waste. For that reason, a 16 game output is a must. If your kicker can’t consistently give you 16 games every season then you’re dealing with a serious problem. So far in his career, Garrett Hartley has yet to do it once. He’s entering his 4th season with the Saints and thanks to his latest non-contact hip injury he’s in serious jeopardy of starting this season on the shelf… AGAIN. Should he miss the opener against the Packers due to this injury, that would make 4 straight seasons he hasn’t completed a full 16 game season.
2008 gets a pass as Hartley was brought on as a plan B to fix the Saints’ kicking woes. You’ll remember he played in 8 games and went a perfect 13 for 13 that year. All the Saints’ kicking problems were solved. They got themselves an accurate kicker with a strong leg that was very young and promising. What’s not to like? Problem is, Hartley failed a drug test because he took addarrall so he could stay up all night driving from Texas to New Orleans, and he started 2009 suspended. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again regarding that mistake – what an idiot. After 4 games, the Saints stuck with John Carney for a while and Hartley ended up kicking in just 5 games. To Hartley’s credit, he tore it up in the playoffs and Super Bowl that year in a truly magical way. He won the approval and hearts of Saints fans everywhere, and all ill will was swiped clean from the record. That is, until 2010, when Hartley suffered his first slump of his career. The Saints brought back John Carney at that point to give Hartley a mental rest. Hartley did bounce back to have a decent season, and he did kick in 14 games last year.
So between being a plan B kicker, failing a drug test, going into a slump and getting a non contact injury, Garrett Hartley may fail to play 16 games for four straight seasons. Again, for a kicker that is an unacceptable statistic. His numbers are strong, no doubt about it. He’s 42 of 49 on field goals since joining the Saints for a 85.7% conversion rate. That is better than strong, it’s outstanding. Still, since he’s been the Saints’ kicker, they’ve had another guy take 23 field goal attempts during that span. The Saints conversion rate on those kicks is 78%, which still isn’t bad, but not as good. On top of that, how many kicks were also not even attempted because Carney didn’t have the leg or trust when Hartley would have? That number could easily be 5 or 6, so we’re approaching 30 kicks in 3 years that Hartley should have been taking, and didn’t. The point here is, if the Saints can’t rely on their kicker to play 16 games he may not worth keeping around. Fluke things happen and I don’t expect a kicker to go 10 years without missing a game… but Hartley is about to go a fourth straight year without playing a 16 game season. He’s never played 16 games in his entire career, and that’s a problem. I’d rather have a kicker that’s slightly less accurate and more durable.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll forever love Hartley for what he did in 2009 and he deserves the seldem granted immortal status in Saints’ history. That said, I’m not sure I want him as the kicker on my team if he’s not capable of ever giving them a full season. I don’t care how good he is.