With a game-winning field goal now on his resume, Brett Maher’s first year in the NFL is getting better by the week. Facing the unenviable task of replacing Dan Bailey in Dallas, the Cowboys new kicker is making the organization look smart thus far.
In arguably the biggest surprise of their final cuts in 2018, Dallas released Bailey and gave the job to Maher. How much of the move was about saving salary cap space or being concerned about Bailey’s performance, only the Cowboys know for sure.
While dealing with a groin injury in 2017, Dan missed four games and went just 75% on his field goals. he also missed two extra points, which were the first misses of that type in his career.
How much of Bailey’s struggles were physical or mental are hard to say. He was supposedly healthy when he returned in mid-November, but that’s when the misses started coming. The discouragement started to show in Dan’s face toward the end of season.
The iceman was starting to melt.
How Dan Bailey would bounce back in 2018 was a “wait and see” situation. He was still the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, and it was reasonable to have faith that he could get his mind and body right over the offseason.
Dallas brought in Brett Maher early in the offseason as the typical extra leg, assumably there to just save some wear and tear on Bailey and punter Chris Jones. But when the Cowboys started playing preseason games, Bailey was almost nowhere to be seen.
Dan attempted one kick all preseason; a 35-yard make in the second game. Otherwise, Maher was getting all the work. Brett went 4-of-5 on his field goals in the preseason, his only miss being from 52 yards out. He had three makes over 40 yards, and then hit a 57-yarder in the preseason finale.
Even after those four exhibition games, there was no thought that Dallas was about make a switch at kicker. When Maher made that 57-yarder, we were happy for him and hoped it would help him get a job with another team.
We don’t know at what point Dallas decided they were going with Brett Maher. Was it in training camp, midway through preseason, or not up until that final day of roster cuts?
We also don’t know what spurred the decision. Was it simply being able to save about $3 million on the salary cap by releasing the decorated veteran for the cheaper Maher? If Dallas was still interested in making a play for Seattle safety Earl Thomas, freeing up cap dollars was a logical objective.
But the way Dallas didn’t hardly use Bailey in preseason, even during the Week 3 dress rehearsal, seemed a little odd at the time. In retrospect, it looks like the Cowboys’ concerns about the veteran hadn’t dissipated from 2017.
For whatever reasons, Dallas ended their eight-year relationship with Dan Bailey and took a chance on the Brett Maher.
While technically in his first NFL season, the 28-year-old Maher is no typical rookie. He went undrafted in 2013 out of Nebraska, and the former Cornhusker has spent time in a few different training camps over the years. He actually spent part of 2013 in Cowboys camp, stepping in for a few weeks while Bailey was injured.
Brett’s primary football activity has been in the Canadian Football League, where he worked as both a kicker and punter. But he was still in the NFL radar, being brought in the Cleveland Browns camp in 2017 and then returning to Dallas this year.
Maher’s first kick in the regular season was a 47-yard miss, causing many to roll eyes and light torches over losing Dan Bailey. I guess you can’t blame them given the circumstances.
Since then, Maher’s made his next eight kicks. They include a 50-yarder in Seattle and then his 4-for-4 performance Sunday against Detroit, capped by the game winner.
Dan Bailey found work with the Vikings, being signed in Week 3. He’s gone 3-for-3 so far with Minnesota, though one of those banked in off the far upright.
As if kicking in the NFL wasn’t pressure enough, Brett Maher has to deal with Bailey’s ghost in Dallas. Their 2018 seasons will be compared relentlessly by bitter Cowboys fans.
So far, though, Maher is getting it done. He’s 88% on the year, which matches Bailey’s career percentage. And he just gave the Cowboys a critical win with a perfect day and a game-winning make.
The torches are cold and the eyes are unrolled, for now.