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Cowboys still kicking the tires

IRVING, Texas -- The funny thing about Dan Bailey becoming the Dallas Cowboys' kicker is that he was not the team's first choice to sign as an undrafted free agent when the lockout ended.

That was Kai Forbath, who was eventually added to the roster despite a quadriceps injury and is now on the reserve/non-football injury list. He will miss the first six weeks of the season.

But Bailey, who won the Lou Groza Award last year at Oklahoma State a year after Forbath won it at UCLA, ended up being the last kicker standing.

Well, sort of.

David Buehler will return to the role he had as a rookie in 2009 as the kickoff specialist and maybe he takes some of the longer field goal attempts.

That the Cowboys decided to keep two kickers speaks to how strange this summer was for the kicking competition. With roster spots at such a premium, it's hard to believe a team coming off a 6-10 season truly wanted to go with four specialists (Bailey, Buehler, punter Mat McBriar, snapper L.P. Ladouceur).

Bailey will be the 10th kicker the Cowboys have employed since 2001. Can you name the other nine? Since we are not offering a prize to the winner, here goes: Tim Seder, Jon Hilbert, Billy Cundiff, Jose Cortez, Shaun Suisham, Mike Vanderjagt, Martin Gramatica, Nick Folk and Buehler.

Not exactly a stellar lineup, although Cundiff had a career year in Baltimore last season: 26 of 29 on field goal attempts and 40 touchbacks. Folk (New York Jets) and Suisham (Pittsburgh Steelers) are still kicking.

Bailey's best showing in the preseason might have come Thursday at Miami's Sun Life Stadium when he didn't even kick at all.

Dave Rayner, who was signed Tuesday and had one full practice, missed from 51 yards (sort of forgivable) and hooked a 36-yarder off the infield dirt (inexcusable) that cost him a job that almost assuredly would have been his had he made one kick. Buehler missed from 48 yards, too.

From the first day of camp until the last, Bailey was the most consistent kicker. He opened eyes early inside the Alamodome, tailed off some in the middle but managed to make a lot more than he missed. He made both of his preseason tries at Minnesota, scuffing a 37-yarder and nailing a 41-yarder with 1:07 to play to make it a six-point game.

It doesn't hurt that Bailey comes at a cheaper price, too.

Bailey will make $375,000 this season. Shayne Graham would have made $910,000 and Rayner would have made $685,000 although they would have counted just $525,000 against the cap as part of a minimum-salary benefit.

Had Graham or Rayner been on the roster the first week, they would have been guaranteed their salaries for the season.

The Cowboys will have a new kicker for the third straight year and a rookie for the second time in five seasons. The last time they gave the field goal duties to a rookie was in 2007, when Folk won the job and ended up in the Pro Bowl after making 26 of 31 attempts.

The Cowboys can only hope Bailey will be as good but it's not as if he has Supreme Court-like job security, especially if he misses a kick against the Jets in the opener.

The Cowboys were patient with Buehler last season -- probably too patient because his misses cost them games or put them in bad positions late in games. He was better from 40-49 yards (72.7 percent) and 50-plus yards (67.0) than he was from 30-39 yards (57.1). Most of his misses in training camp fell between 30-39 yards.

With games decided by small margins, the Cowboys must have a kicker they can trust.

So they will go with Bailey -- for now.

Until Bailey proves otherwise, that qualified answer will have to do.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.