IRVING, Texas – In three years, Dan Bailey has made his share of clutch kicks.
Four game-winners his rookie year, two more last season and another walk-off winner against the Giants this past November.
But his most important kick ever? Well, that might be one in the Alamodome back in his rookie training camp in 2011. Or perhaps in an intra-squad scrimmage with the Chargers at AT&T Stadium. Or better yet, it was probably the 41-yard field goal he made in the final seconds against the Vikings in the third preseason game that year.
Those were the kicks that helped the Cowboys decide to keep him over four other candidates that offseason.
Three years later, the Cowboys did something they've never done – give a multi-million dollar contract extension for a kicker that keeps Bailey around through the 2020 season.
We've seen franchise quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and just about any other position in Cowboys history. But Bailey pretty much becomes the first franchise kicker in club history, and he's certainly deserved it.
The Cowboys signed Bailey to a seven-year deal, extending him six years past 2014. The deal is worth about $22.5 million, including $6.6 million guaranteed.
"I'm super excited. I really enjoyed my first three years here," Bailey said. "To have a chance to tie things down here for the next few years, it's a blessing. I'm excited to keep playing here in Dallas."
Getting a deal like this for a kicker is certainly unheard of in Dallas. Since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, the Cowboys have traditionally cycled through kickers after their contract was up and signed another young player to groom.
That's exactly how the club landed Bailey, who joined the Cowboys in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State. At one point in camp, Bailey was one of five kickers, including the incumbent David Buehler, along with veterans Shayne Graham and Dave Rainer. The Cowboys also had rookie Kai Forbath, who was injured for most of camp and the preseason.
So Bailey learned that his practice kicks were just as important as anything he might get in a game.
"Looking back now, it was probably the best way to learn," Bailey said of the pressure in practice. "It made you focus on what you had to do. You have to bring your best 'A' game every day to go up against guys like Shayne, Dave Rainer – kickers who had been in the league for a while and had been successful."
At the end of this past season, Graham had taken over the kicking duties in New Orleans while Forbath finished his second year as the Redskins kicker.
But the Cowboys made the decision to go with Bailey before the 2011 season and haven't looked back since. Bailey said that decision was a confidence-builder back then, but this contract doesn't hurt either. [embedded_ad]
"It's a huge confidence boost. Any time the organization is willing to make that kind of commitment to you, it's a huge honor," Bailey said. "I'm super excited. Of all the places to kick, I couldn't think of a better place to kick than the stadium we've got here. It's kind of a no-brainer decision for me. It's a great city, a great organization and great stadium as far as kicking goes. It made my decision pretty easy."
So how much will this change his outlook? Bailey hopes it won't change at all because he knows how important staying levelheaded is for kickers, and the players and coaches close by that are counting on them.
"No, I don't think it'll change things too much," Bailey said. "You're only as good as your last kick. That's just the nature of the league. You have to bring your 'A' game every day to practice and the games. You have to do the right thing. I don't think it will have too much of an impact. I take pride in being mentally strong, to put that on the backburner and focus on the task at hand." In three seasons, Bailey has made 89 of 98 field goals, but five of those nine misses occurred as a rookie. Bailey has missed just two kicks each in the last two seasons, and overall, he's 11 of 16 from 50 yards or more.