Guess who’s back, back again? Brett Maher is back, tell a friend. That’s right, the Cowboys signed Maher to the roster Tuesday after holding a tryout for him and three other kickers. They waived rookie Jonathan Garibay, who had been thoroughly outplayed by Lirim Hajrullahu throughout training camp, to make room for Maher.
The fan reaction was about what you’d expect given that Maher’s nearly two years in Dallas was marked by frustrating inconsistency. It didn’t help that Maher made the roster in 2018 by kicking out Dan Bailey, although hindsight tells us the Cowboys were right to move on from Bailey when they did.
Maher quickly impressed with his powerful leg, routinely drilling field goals from well beyond 55 yards and owning two of the ten longest made field goals (62 and 63 yards) in NFL history. However, he was wildly inconsistent on shorter field goals, hitting just 62.5% of his attempts between 30 and 49 yards out. By the time the Cowboys cut him towards the end of the 2019 season, fans were practically throwing parades to celebrate the release.
So how could anyone possibly think Maher might work out this time around?
The skepticism is certainly warranted, especially coming on the heels of a wholly unimpressive kicking competition thus far in training camp. But the thought of Maher reviving his career here isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. Very recently, we’ve seen a fellow kicker do something similar in the case of Daniel Carlson.
Carlson was an elite college kicker at Auburn, winning the Lou Groza Trophy awarded to the nation’s top kicker. Carlson was drafted by the Vikings in 2017, but was cut after just two games for missing three of his four field goal attempts in that span.
The Raiders picked Carlson up and stuck with him through some growing pains. Their patience paid off, as Carlson has been one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL the last two years. Furthermore, Carlson had the third highest conversion rate last year on field goal attempts that would either tie the game or give his team the lead, proving his value as a kicker in clutch situations.
So what was the difference for Carlson? There were likely a ton of factors that played into it, but Carlson’s time with the Raiders (until this year) was marked by Rich Bisaccia serving as his special teams coordinator. Regarded as one of the league’s best special teams coaches, Bisaccia oversaw Carlson’s growth as an NFL kicker, and he’s now performing at the elite level he did in college.
Compare that to Maher, whose time with Dallas was exclusively spent under Keith O’Quinn. As many remember, O’Quinn’s tenure was marked by terrible special teams performances all around, with the Cowboys ranking 23rd and 30th, respectively, in O’Quinn’s two years as the special teams coordinator.
Since then, Maher has mostly spent time on various practice squads, but the Saints relied on him for eight games last year when their kicker was injured. While he didn’t see a significant amount of action, Maher did make 16 of his 18 attempts, easily setting a career high for accuracy. Then again, one of his two misses came against the Cowboys, so maybe it’s just a Dallas thing.
Either way, Maher’s brief stint in New Orleans saw him being coached up by Darren Rizzi, another highly regarded special teams coordinator who has generated head coaching interest in the past. Like Carlson with Bisaccia, Maher’s performance improved dramatically once he was being observed by a great coach.
Which brings Maher now to Dallas, where John Fassel will get to work with the kicker for the first time. And while Fassel has received plenty of criticism in his time with the Cowboys, he’s been undeniably great; the Cowboys have ranked seventh and sixth, respectively, in special teams DVOA in Fassel’s two years in Dallas. Fassel also has a long history of highly effective special teams units throughout his career.
That doesn’t mean that Maher will automatically become a great kicker, but the trend is an easy one to see. His leg strength has always been a special trait, but accuracy was what sunk Maher in Dallas. He showed legitimate improvement in New Orleans during a brief stint, and could continue that growth now under Fassel.
Maher will have plenty of chances to prove himself too, as he still has to beat out Lirim Hajrullahu in training camp and the preseason. Hajrullahu was already the frontrunner in this race, so it’ll take a lot for Maher to unseat him, just as he did with Bailey back in the day. Hopefully, that competition is exactly what it takes for the strong-legged kicker to put it all together.