CHARLOTTE – The Panthers on Friday placed kicker Graham Gano on injured reserve with a left leg injury. Per NFL rules, Gano will not be eligible to return at any point in 2019 because he was not included on the 53-man roster the Panthers are preparing to turn in before Saturday's deadline.
Gano missed the last four games of the 2018 season with an injury in his plant leg. The 32-year-old kicked early in training camp but was sidelined after experiencing soreness again in his leg.
"Both Graham and the team were optimistic throughout this process that his leg would improve enough to allow him to kick," general manager Marty Hurney said. "Unfortunately, Graham still had pain in his plant leg each time he tried to resume kicking. These are tough decisions, and we discussed all options, but ultimately we decided to place Graham on injured reserve today."
Undrafted rookie Joey Slye has stepped up in Gano's place, turning heads throughout the preseason with his powerful leg. Slye went 7-for-8 in the four exhibition games, including a 59-yarder against the Steelers. His lone miss was blocked.
"It's super exciting," Gano said when asked about Slye's success after the preseason finale. "We've known from Day One here he's got a super strong leg. I get fired up on the sideline watching him make kicks. I remember being young and wanting those opportunities. It's cool to see him take advantage of it."
Gano has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league over the last two seasons, missing just three field goal attempts in that span.
He was a Pro Bowler in 2017 after hitting 29-of-30 attempts, the highest conversion percentage (96.7) of his career. Gano went 14-of-16 in 2018, including a career-long 63-yarder to beat the Giants in thrilling fashion. He did miss three point-after attempts last season.
Gano joined the Panthers midway through the 2012 season and he's been the team's kicker ever since.
"It always comes with frustration when you're dealing with injuries," Gano said Thursday night. "Got to take those blows when they come and keep your chin up.
"Whatever my future holds, I'm excited about it. I'm always going to keep a positive attitude no matter what's going on."