For years, the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed comfortable stability in their special teams groups. But 2019 has a big question mark at kicker, and how the Cowboys handle that spot could have a major impact on game outcomes. What does that mean for the 2019 training camp?
Before we get to kicker, let’s get the two simpler spots out of the way. Dallas brings back Punter Chris Jones and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur as bedrocks on special teams. Jones has been with the Cowboys since 2011, and Ladouceur has been here since 2005.
Kasey Redfern is also here right now, presumably as just an extra leg for training camp and preseason. He’s listed as a punter on the roster but has also done some work at kicker this summer. Dallas also has Drew Scott as a backup long snapper, again just to give their veteran some rest when needed.
It is worth nothing that 2018 was a down year for Chris Jones. He wasn’t bad, but his averages and directional kicking weren’t as strong as in previous seasons. He counts over $2 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap the next three years, so continued decline could mean an early end to his contract.
But it’d be a bad gamble to bet on either Jones or Ladouceur getting bumped out by younger players in 2019. Chris is also the holder on field goals and extra points, and the Cowboys want as much stability as possible in these other areas to give Kicker Brett Maher his best chance at success.
While Maher pushed Dan Bailey out of Dallas last season, he didn’t do enough to alleviate future concerns. The long-distance kicks and Special Teams Player of the Week awards were great, but Maher’s total field-goal accuracy of 80.6% was near the bottom of the league.
The Cowboys have yet to bring in another kicker to compete with Maher. Many, including me, have pushed the idea that Dallas should sign veteran free agent Matt Bryant. He likely remains unsigned waiting for training camps, and I expect he will be on someone’s roster by the end of next week.
If Bryant is as good as he’s been throughout a stellar career, even up to last year, he is a far superior kicker to Maher. He may not have the same record-breaking distance but he’s very accurate from beyond 50 yards, and he’s close to perfect from shorter distances.
If nothing else, I would bring a guy like Bryant in just to put some pressure on Maher. You can’t simulate game-time anxiety in July or August, but anything you can do to make your kicker sweat helps evaluate him for the regular season.
It’s understandable that Dallas wants Maher to be their guy. He has a unique talent with his range and he’s proven himself on game-winning kicks. If the rest of his game comes around this year, Brett will be one of the elite kickers in all the NFL.
But a 35-yard field goal is worth the same three points as one from 60, and missing one of those at the end of a game could be the difference in winning the division or even making the playoffs. The Cowboys had better be sure about Brett Maher, because their season could swing on his development.
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