From XFL to USFL to FAs, Cowboys scour the earth for next kicker
FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys took care of their wide receiver need in the offseason with a trade for Brandin Cooks. They did the same with their cornerback need with Stephon Gilmore. They kept a large number of their key free agents, such as linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
In the draft, they selected a defensive tackle, Mazi Smith, in the first round for the first time since 1991 and found a replacement for tight end Dalton Schultz in the second round with Luke Schoonmaker.
“We think we have a better football team,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I think [we] really fixed some things and helped some things that we felt like needed help.”
What about kicker?
“Kicker is certainly one we’ll continue to look at options there,” Jones said.
The Cowboys are in this spot because of how Brett Maher ended last season. He missed six point after attempts in the final three games, including four in the wild-card win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones mentioned the “yips,” on different occasions in the offseason, seeming to forget that Maher set the team record for points in a season (137) and ended the year making 12 straight field goal opportunities.
The draft was an option, but Jake Moody (third round, San Francisco 49ers) and Chad Ryland (fourth round, New England Patriots) went earlier than the Cowboys were willing to use a selection. They never really got into the discussion with Brandon McManus after he was released by the Denver Broncos.
After signing McManus, the Jacksonville Jaguars reached out to the Cowboys about a potential trade for Riley Patterson, according to a source. He was eventually dealt to the Detroit Lions.
Head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned possibilities in the XFL and USFL. Special teams coordinator John Fassel went one step further.
“Anybody else on earth who is not on the team right now is under consideration,” Fassel said. “That’s everybody really.”
Fassel specifically mentioned veterans Robbie Gould, Ryan Succop and Mason Crosby, who kicked for McCarthy with the Green Bay Packers.
At this point, price should not be an issue.
Meanwhile, Tristan Vizcaino is the only kicker on the roster and getting all of the work. In the first organized team activity that was open to the media last week, he made 7 of 9 attempts, missing from 37 and 51 yards.
“Just come in with the right mindset that regardless of any circumstances I’m still competing and trying to do my best every day,” Vizcaino said.
The Cowboys added Vizcaino to the practice squad after Maher’s Tampa Bay outing. In the past three seasons, Vizcaino has kicked for four teams (San Francisco, Arizona, Los Angeles Chargers and New England). He has made 11 of his 12 field goal chances and 15 of his 20 extra points.
“To be honest, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what’s happening throughout the league with guys getting signed,” he said. “I usually hear somehow, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve always been in a competition at this time of year [heading] into training camp, so it’s nothing new, and I embrace it. I think it usually makes both parties better at the end of the day.”
Last year, the Cowboys’ lone kicker in the spring was undrafted rookie Jonathan Garibay. In early July 2022, the Cowboys added Lirim Hajrullahu, but both kickers struggled while in Oxnard, California, for camp and eventually Maher was signed after a tryout.
And Maher had the best year of his career — making 29 of 32 field goal tries with two of his misses coming from 59 yards — and 50 of 53 PATs. He was 9 of 11 from 50 yards or more.
Statistically, Maher remains the best option, but the scar tissue from the end of the season might be too much for his return.
Gould has not missed a postseason field goal attempt in his career (29 of 29), but he turns 41 in December and had just two field goal attempts from 50-plus yards last season. In the past six years, he has not had more than four attempts in a season from 50 yards or more. Maher is 19 of 27 in his career from that range.
Succop, who turns 37 in September, made 31 of 38 tries for the Buccaneers in 2022 but was just 2 of 7 from 50 yards or more. Crosby, who turns 39 in September, made 25 of 29 attempts but was 1 of 4 from 50 yards or more. Randy Bullock made 17 of 20 attempts last season and made all 28 PATs for the Tennessee Titans.
For now, like last year, the Cowboys wait.
“No secrets on who’s available,” Fassel said. “The good thing for us at the kicker spot is being patient.”
They also need to pick the right one. Eventually.