Greg Zuerlein’s first season with the Dallas Cowboys was a puzzling mix of highlight moments but also opportunities for improvement. Did he do enough for Dallas to bring him back in 2021, and should he go unchallenged for the job like he did a year ago?
After Dallas made John Fassel their new Special Teams Coordinator in 2020, Fassel brought in Zuerlein after their long history together with the Rams. The Cowboys’ kicker position had been in flux after Brett Maher was released in 2019 and Kai Forbath finished the last few weeks.
Forbath, who’d gone 10-for-10 in his small sample of games in 2019, was still under contract for 2020 when “Greg the Leg” was added. But by the time we got to training camp in August, Dallas released Kai and handed the job to Zuerlein without a competition.
The Cowboys were somewhat forced into this move by the limited roster size available in camp last year under the COVID-19 rule changes. They decided to make one of the sacrifices at kicker and trust in Fassel’s recommendation of Zuerlein.
Overall Greg Zuerlein made 34 of his 41 field goals for an 82.9% accuracy, ranking 18th in the NFL. But while that sounds rough on the surface, six of his seven misses were from 50 yards or greater and the other one was in the 40-49 yard range.
Greg also went 91.7% on extra-point attempts, missing three of 36, which was only 19th-best in the league.
Zuerlein also had some big plays in clutch moments, such as the successful onside kick and game-winning field goal that helped Dallas in its stunning win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2. Or there were his game-tying and winning field goals against the Giants in Week 5, plus other makes which helped the Cowboys stay competitive until the final week of the season.
Did the good outweigh the bad? That’s hard to answer and depends on your perspective.
Zuerlein is set to count $2.8 million against Dallas’ 2021 salary cap, which only be a mid-range cap hit compared to the $4-5 million that guys like Justin Tucker, Chris Boswell, and Will Lutz are going to cost their teams. One could argue that the Cowboys essentially got what they paid for at kicker in 2020.
Dallas could recoup over $2 million of that cap space by cutting Zuerlein and going with a cheaper option in free agency or the draft. But you run the chance of getting worse in that exchange, and last year’s Cowboys would’ve had a much worse record without a semi-solvent kicker.
Keeping Greg Zuerlein in 2021 at his current price wouldn’t bother me. But what would, as it did last year, is not having anyone else in camp to push him.
We have no idea yet what training camp will look like this year with the pandemic still part of daily life. Roster sizes could be affected again and perhaps force Dallas into the same predicament and decision as 2020.
But if the rules aren’t prohibitive, the Cowboys would be wise to have a younger leg ready to spell Zuerlein and perhaps compete for the job. At 33 years old and already showing accuracy issues, how much more does Greg have?
Sure, Zuerlein could be even better this year now that he’s more familiar with his fellow special teamers and further removed from his 2019 groin injury. Being 33 doesn’t mean for kickers what it does for most other positions.
Nevertheless, a kicker who was below average on both field goals and extra points doesn’t deserve to walk back into his job without a fight. Zuerlein needs to earn his spot with the Cowboys in 2021 just like his teammates at other positions.