(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – It almost felt like a summary of a lost season -- when even Dan Bailey is struggling, maybe it's just not the right year.
That's what it felt like last December, when Bailey slumped to an uncharacteristic finish. The Pro Bowl kicker, who at one point was the most accurate in league history, missed five kicks in the final month of the season, including a 34-yard chip shot in a devastating Christmas Eve loss to Seattle. If that weren't enough, he missed two extra points -- the first time that had ever happened in his NFL career.
It was a glaring example for what felt like a theme in 2017 -- top-tier players suffering through unexpected slumps. As the Cowboys get ready for their trip to training camp, it prompts the latest question in our preseason preview:
18) Is Dan Bailey the biggest bounce-back candidate?
Nick Eatman: Yes, he's the guy I think will have the biggest bounce-back season. He's also the most important. NFL games are always coming down to a field goal at the end -- and not just the end of a game, but at halftime, as well. Field goals often decide games and Bailey has been so great for so long. When he returned last year, he was just off, for some reason. I have no doubt he'll come back stronger than ever in 2018 and will be the reliable kicker the Cowboys have known for the past seven years. I wouldn't count out Tyron Smith for this category, either.
Lindsay Draper: Without a doubt. No one is more involved with putting points on the board than Dan Bailey. We saw the Cowboys offense struggle to complete drives last season, and Dan Bailey's uncharacteristic moments added some unforeseen challenges for this offense. Since his NFL career began in 2011, Bailey has missed only 25 field goals. Five of those were down the stretch of last season. And if we're talking bounce-back, Bailey only made 75% of field goals last year, the worst completion percentage in a season of his career. I know there are guys in that locker room who look in the mirror and want a 'bounce back' type of year for themselves, and I fully expect to see some leaps on the offensive side of the ball. But Bailey is the necessity, and he'd be the first to tell you that.
Mickey Spagnola: Well, aside of Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown, then yeah, probably so. For the first time since Bailey's rookie season when he converted 32 of 37 field-goal attempts (86.5 percent), he missed five field goals in a season, making 15 of just 20 attempts (75 percent). Most alarming, though, he missed the first two extra points of his eight-year NFL career, previously having made all 250 of his attempts. But let's not forget he suffered that serious groin tear against San Francisco (Oct. 22) and would miss the next four games. Up until that point, Bailey was 7-for-7 on field goals and hit all his PATs. But upon return, Bailey made just eight of 13 field-goal attempts and missed the first two extra points of his career. Bounce back? He sure looked his ol' self while kicking during the off-season, but bet we keep an eye on him during training camp.
David Helman: Call me an optimist if you want to, but I'm not overly worried about Dan Bailey. He struggled through the final month of the season after dealing with injuries, but he has been good enough for long enough that I trust him to re-discover his old form. For me, I think my bounce-back guy needs to be Cole Beasley. It made such a difference for Dak Prescott when Beasley was facing favorable coverages in 2016, finishing with 75 catches on the year. When Beasley was taken away by opponents last year, Dak struggled to find other options. Beasley doesn't need to do everything himself, but it would make a huge difference if he can carry more of the load.