The offseason of the Dallas Cowboys is off to a great start.
As a whole the team addressed their biggest concerns on each side of the ball by trading for veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. They’ve brought back key pieces on both sides of the ball. And to make matters even better, they’ve done some fantastic contract re-structuring to save quite a bit of cap space. It’s put Cowboys Nation in such a great mood that now we’re pondering, what else can they do.
One idea that has circulated around the water cooler is going after San Francisco 49ers free agent, Robbie Gould. In fact, my colleague Chris Halling wrote about this very thing last week. The 40-year-old kicker finished out the final year of his contract and considering that the 49ers just traded for the Carolina Panthers’ kicker Zane Gonzalez, he’ll be looking for a new home in 2023. He’s put together quite the postseason resume in recent years as he’s become Mr. Clutch, knocking down all 21 of his field goal attempts over nine playoff games since joining the Niners in 2019. He’s 29/29 in the playoffs throughout his entire career. That’s something the Cowboys should be interested in, right?
Not so fast.
The argument against paying premium price to a kicker
Having a good kicker is important and it should always be a goal to find a guy who the team can count on in big moments, but that doesn’t mean going out and paying top dollar is the way to go about it. For starters, just like other positions, when a team pays out in free agency, they’re paying for past results, not future outcomes. Just as an example, three kickers got large multi-year contracts of at least $20 million last offseason. Here is where each of them finished in FG% rank last season.
- Justin Tucker ($6 M annually), 86% (ranked 16th)
- Chris Boswell ($5 M annually, 71.4% (ranked 33rd)
- Younghoe Koo ($4.85 M annually), 86.5% (ranked 14th)
It shouldn’t go unmentioned that Boswell, who became the second-highest-paid kicker last year, finished with the worst field goal percentage of any kicker with more than 10 field goal attempts last year. A few other of the top 10 highest-paid kickers last year (Harrison Butker, Brian McManus, and Jason Sanders) all finished outside the top 25 in FG% last season. The Cowboys kicker, Brett Maher, finished eighth in FG% at 90.6% last year. For what it’s worth, that’s higher than Robbie Gould has finished in each of his last four years in the league.
While money can’t promise a reliable kicker, it doesn’t stop teams from trying to pay for it; however, usually, those are teams who rely heavily on their services. This offseason, there are two new high-priced kickers that have joined the top five highest-paid, and they are Indianapolis’ Matt Gay ($5.6 M annually) and Seattle’s Jason Myers ($5.3 M annually). It just so happens that the Colts and Seahawks both finished in the bottom five in red zone percentage. Teams that stall out and are forced to kick field goals have a bigger need for good kickers.
The Cowboys had the best red zone scoring percentage in the league last year. The Chiefs, who are paying a top-10 price for their kicker, had the second-best red zone % last season and Butker only made a total of 18 field goals last year. That ranked 31st in the league.
Not only is Dallas pretty darn good in the red zone, but Mike McCarthy is calling the plays now and they just added a very good WR2 in Brandin Cooks. If the Cowboys find themselves kicking a lot of field goals in 2023, then something has gone horribly wrong. It would bring back flashbacks of when the Cowboys become too conservative after crossing the 50-yard line because they knew they had the automatic Dan Bailey. It’s not a coincidence that Bailey’s lone All-Pro season was when the Cowboys finished second-worst in touchdowns scored.
It’s understandable that people want a reliable kicker. Since Bailey left town, there have certainly been some tumultuous moments in the kicking game. And many are scarred by Maher’s meltdown in the Wild Card game against the Buccaneers when he missed four-straight extra points. But let’s not overreact.
Finding a good kicker is important, but paying top dollar for one could smell of mistrust in an offensive unit that they think will become more reliant on the kicking game. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott. With two good receivers, an explosive running back, and a new play-caller, do they still not believe he is good enough to find the end zone? Let the teams with the game-managing QBs spend extra cash on a kicker. The Cowboys play for touchdowns, not field goals.
It would be great to have the best at every position, but it just doesn’t work that way. The Cowboys have been smart about how they’ve allocated their cap resources, so why be irresponsible now? Paying for the latest top name would make some Cowboys fans feel better, but that’s all it might do. There’s no guarantee that it would translate into success and the team would be better served to use those funds on touchdown makers and touchdown preventers.