2017 was a down year for Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey. A groin injury limited him to just 75% field goal accuracy and he had the first PAT misses of his career. Everyone assumes that a healthy Bailey will bounce back, but what can the team do if he doesn't?
Last year, when Dan got injured, the Cowboys signed veteran Mike Nugent for relief work. Nugent was adequate, going 7-of-9 on his field goals and making all eight of his extra points over four games.
It's hard to say now what veteran kickers will be out there if Dallas has to come calling again. Many of them get signed up during training camps and preseason depending on injuries and other issues with the guys currently on rosters.
Obviously, the hope is that Dan Bailey returns to his phenomenal form this season and renders this a moot discussion. But if he gets hurt again, or if last year's struggles have done permanent damage, then the Cowboys may have to do something mid-season.
Most of us haven't ever tried to kick field goals, but far more of us have tried to swing a golf club. If you've ever experienced the inability to stop putting it in the woods, you understand how the mental approach to the swing is so critical to success.
Bailey can be 100% healthy physically, but if his mind isn't right then it could get ugly really fast.
Thankfully, the Cowboys have an easy out if things go that way.
Back in 2014, with Bailey on pace to be the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dallas signed him to a seven-year contract at $22.5 million. There are three seasons left on the existing deal.
In 2018, Dan will count $4.2 million against the salary cap with only $800k in remaining dead money. If the worst-case-scenario happens, the Cowboys can easily cut him.
Of course, things would have to be really bad for that move to come. Even if he's not a 90% kicker anymore, Bailey would still be a better option than most free agents still on the street in the middle of the season.
We all want good health and good performance for Bailey, because at his peak level there's nobody better in the history of the league. A critical game could depend on a single swing of his leg.
But given last year, that's why this conversation must be had. Even if Dan looks great in July and August, who really knows what the pressure of real games might do?
Like so many Cowboys in 2018, Dan Bailey has a lot to prove. But perhaps more than most players, the fate of the team could depend on his success.