At times, special teams can make or break not only single games, but whole seasons. For the Cowboys in 2021, Dallas lost five regular season games, and of those five games, three had missed kicks in them.
Most notably, in games versus the Buccaneers and Raiders, there were missed field goal attempts as well as missed extra points resulting in losses within three points. Those games in particular were games that the Cowboys were the better team in all facets of the game aside from special teams.
Zuerlein, who is entering his eleventh season in the NFL, has long been known for having arguably the strongest leg in the league.
However, from an accuracy perspective, it has been a bit of a bumpy road and based on his stats, he is a below average kicker. His career field goal percentage is 82.2% and during that same timeline, the league average is 84.3%. During his two year stint with Dallas, he was slightly above his career average kicking at 82.9% a clip. What was really concerning in his two-year run with the Boys was his points after touchdown percentage as he only made 89.3% of those attempts.
Since 2015, the NFL moved the extra point line of scrimmage from the two-yard line to the 15-yard line which made extra points a 33-yard field goal attempt. Since those changes, the league average for successful attempts is at 93.8%. Stats do not lie, Greg Zuerlein may have one of the biggest legs in the league, but he is a below average kicker. It’s hard to justify any team paying a below average kicker $2.5 million annually, and it also justified that the Cowboys made the correct move by releasing him a year early from his contract.
With Zuerlein no longer in the picture and now kicking for the New York Jets, there was a hole that needed to be filled at kicker. Many draft pundits tabbed Dallas as a team who could look in the NFL draft to fill the void left by the departing Zuerlein. As the draft concluded, Dallas had yet to fill the kicker position. Shortly after the conclusion of the draft, Jonathan Garibay from Texas Tech University was signed and he was now in the driver’s seat to be the kicker for the Dallas Cowboys in 2022.
Garibay signed a deal where his average pay will be just over $850,000 a season. That is almost a two million dollar a year savings compared to if Dallas decided to keep rolling with Zuerlein. Like Zuerlein, Garibay possesses a big leg as his career long field goal with the Red Raiders was 62 yards.
During last season’s campaign at Texas Tech, he made 15 of 16 kicks for a percentage of 93.8% and he also made 49 of 50 point after touchdowns. At the collegiate level, extra points are attempted from the three-yard line, and 98% accuracy from that distance is expected. For comparative purposes to the NFL game, Garibay was a perfect six-for-six in his college career from a range of 30-39. Garibay has all the tools to be a good kicker in the league for many years to come.
Aside from Garibay, Dallas possesses the third highest average salary at punter as well as the third highest average salary at long snapper as well. They are the only NFL team that ranks third or higher in average salary at these particular positions which means the organization places a higher value on punter and long snapper as compared to the rest of the league. The only question mark to date is rookie kicker Jonathan Garibay.
The confidence Dallas seems to have in Garibay is very apparent and regardless of the recent signing of Lirim Hajrullahu, the keys to the kicking job are Garibay’s. The signing of Hajrullahu is simply a procedural move to give Garibay some legitimate competition before the regular season. It would take a major collapse or injury for him to lose the job.
With a veteran presence and top dollar contracts doled out to established players at both punter and long snapper, all eyes will be on Jonathan Garibay to provide much needed stability for a position that has been anything but stable since the elite Dan Bailey days. Jonathan Garibay’s play will be a major storyline to follow throughout the 2022 season.