It’s very difficult to understand why the Dallas Cowboys moved on from Dan Bailey.
Bailey is the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals made. He’s the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. Read it again. He’s the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. We’re literally talking about one of the greatest kickers the game has ever seen, yet the Cowboys gave him the proverbial kick when they initially finalized their 53-man roster.
Our own Michael Sisemore took to the BTB front page on Saturday night noting that Bailey “wasn’t automatic anymore.” I don’t necessarily agree with this idea, but I understand how people are coming to this conclusion.
The “Dan Bailey is not Dan Bailey anymore” narrative
The end of 2017 wasn’t kind to Dan Bailey. He missed an extra point for the first time in his career and during what we now know was his last game with the team against the Philadelphia Eagles missed every kick he attempted in a game for the first time ever.
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
Dan definitely struggled in the season’s final quarter, but he hadn’t missed at all in 2017 before that (eight games). It would be a bit irresponsible for the Cowboys to overreact to one quarter of a season across a seven-year career which is why people have looked elsewhere.
It’s true that Dan Bailey has in a literal sense declined as far as field goal percentage goes over the past three years. If you take one look at this you feel like Sisemore, that the Cowboys had just cause in moving on from Bailey.
Dan Bailey's last three seasons' field goal percentage:— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) September 1, 2018
2015 - 93.8 percent
2016 - 84.4 percent
2017 - 75.0 percent (12 games)
Well it looks like Dan Bailey has declined, right? Entering his eighth season he’s obviously a shell of himself and Brett Maher is worth rolling the dice on (Maher might be a good kicker, none of this is meant to imply that he’s not). These numbers alone aren’t fair.
Adding context to Dan Bailey’s last three seasons
We need context for Dan Bailey’s last three years, and context has arrived. Here is every single kick of Bailey’s over the last three seasons. Take a look and see what sticks out.
Dan Bailey from 2015 to 2017
There are 12 misses for Dan in that time span. Of those 12, 10 came from at least 47 yards out. That stuck out to me.
In the immediate aftermath of Bailey’s release The Athletic’s Calvin Watkins dropped this nugget concerning the deep kick that Brett Maher had the other night. Calvin noted Brett’s 57-yarder on Thursday wasn’t the decision-maker for Bailey to be waived, but that it played a role. Dan Bailey’s career long is 56 yards.
A source tells @TheAthleticDFW the big difference between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher is the leg. Maher's leg just stronger and that 57-yarder in Houston helped his cause. It wasn't the big difference but part of the process.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) September 1, 2018
Dan Bailey tends to know his threshold, down to the yard, but the fact that a threshold exists might have been his undoing
Two years ago after the Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football (the Ezekiel Elliott kettle game) something stuck out to me about Bailey. He’d connected on four of his six field goals on the night, but he missed from downtown. What’s more is he had missed deep the week before in New York, and in a very calculated way. From me back then at InsideTheStar.com:
The robotic nature of Dan Bailey’s accuracy was on full display during Week 14’s contest in New York. NBC’s Michelle Tafoya reported just before Dan Bailey attempted a 55-yard field goal that he told her during the pregame his maximum distance at MetLife that night was 53 yards, and that in the direction the Cowboys were currently facing he could potentially get an extra yard out of it.
As fate would have it, Bailey’s attempt hit the bottom crossbar landing it literally one yard short of being a successful field goal... proving that Dan Bailey is incredible even in misses. He is a football-kicking machine, knowing his maximum distance in all sorts of environments.
Since that 55-yard miss by Dan back on December 11th, 2016 at MetLife do you know how many field goals he’s missed? Seven. Of those seven do you know how many came from 50 or more yards out? Four.
The last three field goals that Dan Bailey ever kicked as a Cowboy were all misses coming from 34, 48, and 23 yards out. Nobody is trying to make excuses for Bailey here, but he was very obviously hurt at the end of the season. We know that. It’s objective fact. Consider those three outliers of the seven post-MetLife 2016 while we move on.
Operating in this now-defined vacuum we are talking about four misses from Bailey since the aforementioned game in New York: 56, 52, 53, and 50 yards out. He only connected on five 50-or-more-yard field goals in this same stretch of time (50, 52, 56, 51, & 51) making him five of nine from that distance since New York two years ago. So since Dan Bailey came up a yard shy against the Giants he is (from 50+):
- 56 - No Good
- 52 - No Good
- 50 - Good
- 52 - Good
- 56 - Good
- 53 - No Good
- 50 - No Good
- 51 - Good
- 51 - Good
Could Bailey’s release actually be a concern of his length from beyond the arc (so to speak) more than anything else (as opposed to his overall accuracy)? This data tells us more than anything.
The Monday after that what-now-might-have-been fateful game in New York I spoke to Jason Garrett with Rob Thompson on ESPN San Antonio’s The Blitz (Coach Garrett appears every Monday at 4pm CT during the season). I asked him about the decision to go for that 55-yard try knowing the parameters that Dan had defined for himself so explicitly.
Coach Garrett acknowledged that it was an aggressive decision (the Cowboys lost the low-scoring affair). Not at all blaming coaching strategy here, but why was it aggressive? You’ll remember that it was an extremely cold night in New York, but was part of the aggressiveness because the attempt tested Dan’s threshold?
If Maher’s big leg potential was “part of the process” in Dallas releasing Dan Bailey then it stands to reason that Baileys yardage limitation might have been as well. Perhaps the Cowboys want to be more flexible in long field goal situations and didn’t feel that Bailey offered them that as much as he used to a few years ago.
It remains a mystery.