Among the many doubts born of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season was the status of Dan Bailey as an assumptive non-issue.
For the first time in his career, Dan Bailey missed an extra point in 2017. He actually achieved several firsts during his sputtering end to the season.
Sunday in Philadelphia was the first time in Dan Bailey's career that he missed 100% of the kicks (field goals and extra points collectively) that he attempted.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) January 1, 2018
Prior to 2017 Dan Bailey had never played in an NFL game where he didn't make at least one extra point or field goal.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) January 1, 2018
He has now played in two. Bailey didn't attempt a kick of any kind against the Chargers on Thanksgiving, and he missed both of his attempts in Philadelphia.
Dan Bailey hadn't missed at all before traveling to New York on December 10th. Since then he went 12/19 overall (field goals and extra points), 7/12 on field goals and 5/7 on extra points. pic.twitter.com/pM94BZRG9K— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) January 1, 2018
There are those that are willing to assume this is an aberration of sorts. To be fair, it isn’t the most ridiculous idea to turn a blind eye to this and note it as a potential outlier, Dan Bailey’s career speaks for itself.
The thing is though, it kind of isn’t an aberration. This is actually the second instance of Dan Bailey breaking down a bit to end the season.
Think back to 2014, my friends. It was a glorious time, and now you’re feeling good, I know it.
In terms of the regular season, Bailey was dynamite (Dan-o-mite?). He was the Dan Bailey we’ve always known him to be. No weirdness there.
But remember the playoffs that season. Remember that Dan Bailey missed a 41-yard field goal during the wildcard round against the Detroit Lions, and remember that he missed a 50-yard attempt near the end of the first half the week after in Lambeau Field (an eventual six-point swing).
These two misses aren’t exactly a trend, and if anything they simply proved that Dan is human (shocker). But in the spirit of looking under every rock to find out what’s wrong with Dan, is there some concern about his durability at this point?
There are now two known instances of Dan Bailey faltering down the stretch, this we know. We’re also aware that they took place in his fourth and seventh seasons. He was 26 and 29 years old, respectively, in those years.
Something else we know is that it’s Dan Bailey’s back and groin that is causing him these issues. Coincidentally, his back flared up each time the Cowboys last traveled to San Francisco (2016 and 2017), but unlike last season, two years ago the injury didn’t cause him to miss any time.
These are both two mysterious instances, but given that Dan Bailey’s only stretches of struggles are towards the tail end of the season, it stands to reason that it is the result of him wearing down over the course of the season up to that point.
Part of what makes Dan Bailey a great option for the Cowboys is that he handles kickoff duties as well. This allows the team to not have to worry about carrying anybody else on the roster (those David Buehler days were something special) or have Chris Jones worry about it. If it’s getting kicked from the ground, Dan Bailey is the one doing the job.
This is an inordinate amount of work, though, especially if your offense is moving and grooving like Dan Bailey’s has in season’s past. Look at how many kickoffs he’s kicked each season, and consider how much of a percent that is of his overall kicks.
On average, kickoffs comprise 53% of Dan Bailey’s total kicks per season. That’s a lot.
It’s worth noting that we’re also only talking about charted kicks of any kind here. These are all kicks that occurred in NFL games, they don’t take into consideration any that Dan has in practice. You could theoretically extrapolate that to a degree, but that math would get irresponsible.
There is no one that can deny Dan Bailey’s supreme accuracy when it comes to kicking in terms of scoring. He’s the second-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history and, as noted, he had made 250 consecutive extra points before the 2017 season began.
Looking at this data though, these kicks do come at a price. If Dan’s overall kicking mechanism is used too frequently, like any other machine it wears down. Consider that in 2014 before his first bad stretch of field goals that he’d kicked 56 extra points (a league-high) and 98 kickoffs (his own personal high).
Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant kept the offense moving in 2014, but with that came more extra points and more kickoffs. It wore Dan down as we referenced.
There are options to address this situation. The Cowboys can bring in a kickoff specialist, they can assign the duties to Chris Jones (or Jeff Heath for all that matter), and to be frank the NFL potentially discontinuing kickoffs could help preserve Bailey’s career (it’d hinder others).
While there are some that will scoff at any of these ideas (Dan Bailey’s a football player! Football players need to play when the coaches say! He’s being paid to after all!), we’re talking about an insane offensive weapon here. Seriously.
In case you glossed over it up above... Dan Bailey is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. He’s as close to a guarantee as you can have, well he used to be, and the data shows that he’s being overworked.
If the Cowboys can conserve over 50% of his usage... shouldn’t they? If having someone else handle kickoffs helps Dan Bailey’s ability to be more accurate down the stretches of season, doesn’t that help their offense and residually their chances to win?
Think back to the 2014 divisional playoff game as an example (when Bailey’s kickoffs were 54% of his overall kicks). Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal with 34 seconds left in the first half in Green Bay. Had he made that kick the Cowboys would have taken a 17-7 lead and kicked off (ironically Dan would have done it), pinning Aaron Rodgers’ offense back around the 20.
Instead the Packers got the ball at their own 40-yard line and were able to squeeze out a field goal of their own, narrowing the game to 14-10.
DeMarco Murray’s fumble lost that game (Dean Blandino and the NFL’s hindsight didn’t help), but when it happened the Cowboys were only leading 14-10. Those six points would have been awfully valuable in a game the Cowboys lost 21-26.
The point here isn’t to blame Dan Bailey for a playoff loss over three years ago, it’s to try and ration his greatness and focus it on what’s most important. Points matter far more than whatever Dan Bailey can bring on kickoffs. More importantly, what he does bring on kickoffs can be found far more easily than what he brings in the actual kicking game.
Save Dan Bailey, Cowboys. Enough with the kickoffs. Rest that golden foot (and more importantly that back) for when you really need it. Enough.