It’s fitting that the Cowboys preseason ended with a badly missed field goal attempt.
Dave Rayner’s ugly shank off the infield dirt at Sun Life Stadium served as one last reminder of how frustrating the Cowboys’ search for a kicker has been.
Even with the new kickoff rules, it appears that the Cowboys will go with the kicker-by-committee approach. The four candidates – not including Kai Forbath, who will be stashed on the physically unable to perform list – will probably be trimmed to two.
The value of David Buehler’s rare leg strength seemed to decrease when the NFL competition committee voted to move kickoffs up five yards, but he’s the only member of the Cowboys’ kicking contingent who can be counted on to boot the ball into the end zone on a regular basis. (Shayne Graham had a kickoff in practice last week as ugly as Rayner's shanked field goal attempt, causing coach Joe DeCamillis to dig deep into his R-rated vocabulary.) But Buehler can’t be trusted as a placekicker, as the Cowboys learned the hard way last season.
Rayner’s 0-for-2 audition went so badly that it’s hard to believe the Cowboys could seriously consider keeping him. That leaves journeyman Graham (the third most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history) and rookie Dan Bailey, who won last year’s Lou Groza Award at Oklahoma State and had an up-and-down training camp.
Can the Cowboys afford to use two roster spots on kickers? They did it a couple of seasons ago, and Jason Garrett sounded resigned to it being a strong possibility even before the preseason finale.
“I think you have to shake it out almost on a week by week basis,” Garrett said this week. “Certainly you’re going to have a plan for that for the season. I think injuries and availability of players will factor into that a lot. You’ll have to look at each other and say, ‘Ok, let’s keep this guy up, let’s put that guy down, we need the third QB this week, we don’t need the third QB, those sort of things. We’ve had some preliminary discussions as to how to approach that as an overall philosophy, but I also think [it is] a week to week decision.”
As Garrett alluded to, teams now officially dress 46 players on game days, which would include the third quarterback. (It had been 45 players plus the third quarterback.) If Stephen McGee is inactive, it would allow the Cowboys to carry an extra kicker without sacrificing depth at other spots.
Andre Gurode’s release could have created an extra roster spot for a kicker. The Cowboys are likely to only keep nine offensive linemen, plus a couple on the practice squad.
After a long, unsuccessful search, the Cowboys probably can’t afford not to go two-deep at kicker.