While releasing Dez Bryant tops the list of controversial offseason moves by the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the decision to cut Dan Bailey and replace him with Brett Maher may have been second. And while many remain dubious about what happened to Dez, there’s no questioning that Dallas made the right call by switching kickers.
You could look solely at Maher’s performance and feel good about what the Cowboys did. Bailey made just 75% of his field goals in 2017 and Maher raised that to 80% this year.
That’s not to say 80% is any great accomplishment. Of kickers who attempted 20 or more field goals this year, Maher was close to the bottom in overall accuracy.
But Dan Bailey was even closer.
As a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Bailey again made just 75% of his field goals in 2018. And unlike last season, there was no reported injury that was contributing to his struggles.
You could argue that Dallas’ best move would have been to find some other kicker than either of these guys, and there’d be some logic to that. After all, neither was that accurate compared to the better NFL kickers.
Here is a full comparison of Maher and Bailey’s field goal work this season, broken down by the lengths of their kicks:
What can we take from this? You hate to see those two misses by Maher in the 30s, but Bailey had one from even closer in. And neither was exactly money from 40-49 yards out, though Maher’s 64% is far preferable to just 44% from Bailey.
The real story here is what happened from 50 yards out or more. This was never Bailey’s forte; he only made two-thirds of his kicks from this distance over his entire career.
Maher, though, has emerged as one of the best long-range weapons in football. He made six of his seven kicks from this distance, two of which were from 62 and 59 yards out. He now has the two longest field goals in Cowboys franchise history.
These would have been two punts during the Dan Bailey era. Instead, Brett Maher gave you six points.
This isn’t just a novelty. Imagine that you’re in a last-minute or sudden death scenario. Maher’s range gives your offense a 10-yard cushion to get into FG range. You can get to the opponent’s 40-45 yard line to give him a legit shot at a game-winning kick
Not only did Maher outperform Bailey this year, but he did it for fraction of the price.
Brett’s compensation for 2018 was just $480k. Bailey was scheduled to count $4.2 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap this year.
Even with the rough season in 2017, Dan’s history and name value still got him nearly $2 million this year from the Vikings.
Clearly, Dallas saw something in these two kickers during the last training camp and preseason. Maybe they really loved Maher’s distance, or perhaps they were more worried about Bailey not ever getting back to what he used to be.
Or maybe they thought the kickers would perform similarly, so they simply went with the guy who cost a lot less.
Whatever motivated the decision, both kickers validated that choice with their performances in 2018. Maher hit a couple of game winners and set new franchise records. He won two Special Teams Player of the Week awards.
Meanwhile, Bailey perhaps played his way out of the NFL.
Obviously, we appreciate everything that Dan Bailey accomplished during his time with the Cowboys. He was the most accurate kicker in NFL history for much of that run, and is easily the best to ever do it in Dallas.
But for 2018, Brett Maher was the right man for the job. Credit goes to the Cowboys for recognizing that and taking the risk.