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Here is why the Cowboys no longer need Dan Bailey as their field goal kicker

The Cowboys went a different direction and there’s a perfectly good explanation why.

Los Angeles Chargers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have made some very shocking roster decisions over the last couple seasons. For years, Tony Romo’s arm carried this football team into relevance, but when a shiny (and much cheaper) new toy comes along in Dak Prescott, the Cowboys moved on from Romo. And if letting go of the Cowboys all-time leader in touchdown passes wasn’t surprising enough, then how about the franchises all-time leader in touchdown catches? Yep, just a year after Romo left, the team cut Dez Bryant.

With those big moves, there was writing on the wall. Circumstances happened that got some people talking about how it could be a real possibility. These guys we have loved and cheered on for years are suddenly no longer needed on this football team. While all that can be rationalized, fans were flat-out unprepared for the release of the team’s all-time leader in field goals, Dan Bailey. In seven years of service, Bailey kicked more FG’s than Rafael Septien despite having fewer attempts. Of course, that’s bound to happen when you’re one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history... second-most to be precise.

My colleagues Michael Sisemore and RJ Ochoa looked into the Bailey situation and had some really good explanations. Bailey’s accuracy has certainly dropped over the last few years.

And there appears to be a clear ceiling on how far he can kick the ball. Those things are both true, but I found myself still mystified how the Cowboys could so abruptly go a different direction when Bailey had such a long history of dependability. So, I locked myself in my room, turned on some Huey Lewis and the News and tried to figure things out by taking a close look at Bailey’s 108 NFL games over the course of his seven-year career. And guess what - I have closure now. I came across some things that were very interesting.

Let’s start with something my good pal, RJ, would get a kick out of...

What’s amazing about this tidbit of information is the breakdown of when the “Bailey victories” actually occurred.

It should be clear as to why Cowboys fans fell in love with Dan Bailey so quickly. I remember the second NFL field goal attempt of his career. He shanked a 21-yarder against the San Francisco 49ers and I thought, “you have got to be kidding me, get rid of this guy!” Of course, he then went on an incredible run of kicks that made me realize I shouldn’t be so quick to rush to judgment.

Bailey was awesome for the Cowboys early on and can be credited with nine great performances where his leg helped this team to victory over his first two seasons. No wonder people loved him. And when you take into account that both of those years were 8-8 seasons, he’s just a hero. That’s not too shabby for a guy who’s taking up less than $500k of team’s cap space annually. Hooray! Rejoice the insane value that is Dan Bailey!

But then something changed. He started to decline, right? Nope, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As great as Bailey was a kicker in coming through for the team, those miracle moments nose-dived.

Over the next five years, Bailey would only have one game a season where his leg turned out to be the final difference-maker. We still celebrated. He was still awesome, and while we placed him on our shoulders, what we failed to realize is that the Cowboys didn’t need him quite as much. The Cowboys had gotten better. The 2014 and 2016 seasons are two of the better years in the last decade, but the team was winning games by a larger margin to where Bailey didn’t have to be the hero that much anymore.

Not only has Bailey came through in the clutch, but he’s seldom the goat (not to be confused with GOAT). In fact, he only has five “Bailey losses” and even most of them aren’t really his fault. Let’s review them, shall we?

You may have heard some fans claim Jason Garrett lacks clock management skills. While I am not one who subscribes to this way of thinking, this narrative has stuck because early in his career, it was absolutely true. The young head coach did Bailey no favors with some terrible clock management late in the game against the Arizona Cardinals (2011) and Baltimore Ravens (2012). Against the Cardinals, the game was all tied up 13-13 and the Cowboys were driving to get in field goal range for the game winner. Dez Bryant caught a pass at the 32-yard line with 25 seconds left. Garrett, who still had one timeout left, decided that rather than try to get closer, just let the clock wind down to set up the field goal.

Photo courtesy of NFL Game Pass

Bailey would line up for the 49-yard game winner, but it would just narrowly be wide-left. The game went into overtime and the Cardinals scored a touchdown on their first possession to win the game.

The Cowboys would be involved in another nail-biter a year later when they were on the verge of a great comeback against Baltimore. Dez Bryant caught a touchdown pass late in the game, but couldn’t come down with the 2-point conversion, meaning the Cowboys still trailed 29-31. Bailey would lay down a perfect onside kicker directed right in front of him and the Cowboys would recover the ball. Dallas was on the verge of driving the ball down the field, but once again they got careless with the time and let precious seconds run off, forcing Bailey to attempt a 51-yarder. This one was also wide-left.

And of course, everyone remembers the “Garrett freezes his own kicker” game. While I don’t buy that type of excuse at all, what I do buy is this - Bailey knocked the kick down the first time, but when he had to do it again and Jason Pierre-Paul was able to get his big hand in the way, the Cowboys lost the game.

For me, there are others more at fault in those loses than Bailey, with Garrett’s poor clock management being the blame for two of them.

In 2016, the Cowboys would win 13 games, but they couldn’t beat the Giants for some reason. In the season opener, Bailey missed a 55-yard kick at the end of the first half that would come back to bite them. It’s hard to blame Bailey for that because that’s a long kick and the offense themselves couldn’t do hardly anything, but he didn’t miss a lot of kicks and this was one of the few times a miss made the difference in a close game.

Finally, last season the Cowboys offense couldn’t find the end zone against the Seattle Seahawks. All the scoring would come from Bailey as he made four field goals. Unfortunately, he need to make more as he had two misses that really hurt. With 5:43 left in the game, Bailey missed a 34-yarder which crushed our spirits. He would also miss a 48-yard attempt with just over a minute to go that effectively ended the Cowboys playoff chances. It was the first time I really felt let down by Dan Bailey and that’s a remarkable statement to make for a kicker who has been doing this for seven years.

Now, every team needs a good kicker and just because he stopped getting game-winners at a ridiculous rate doesn’t mean he’s not the most accurate kicker in NFL history. And that is exactly what Bailey was entering last season. But then the wheels came off.

When we look above at the three winning seasons, we’ll also see the three years that Bailey’s had the fewest field goal attempts. It is fair to say that this is a different Cowboys team that so desperately needed a kicker like young Bailey back in 2011 and 2012. It’s also fair to say that his accuracy is dropping. And it seems real clear that he just doesn’t have the leg for the big kicks.

When we watch newcomer Brett Maher knock down a 57-yarder (which is something Bailey has never done), suddenly the idea of getting a big leg into the team’s arsenal is appealing. When you factor in Bailey’s $3.5 million annual salary and that the team is only getting one “Bailey win” a year these days, that’s not getting good bang for your kicker buck.

There was a time where an automatic mid-range field goal guy was pure gold for the Cowboys. But that time has passed. And even more than that, so are the days where Bailey’s automatic. What this team needs instead is to keep improving their team where they aren’t so caught up in close games (like 2014 and 2016) and when a kickers services are needed and it happens to be a long one, the guy has a fighting chance to knock it through.

Maher may not be the answer. His accuracy could be very similar to what Bailey has been doing in recent years or it could be even worse. If it’s the latter, I’m sure the Cowboys will have a short leash with him. But the current state of Dan Bailey was no longer producing the dividends it once was so why not add another element to the mix to possibly give the team a kicker with a big leg?

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