IRVING, Texas – Jason Hatcher's not the only player coming off a stellar season whose contract is up with the Cowboys.
One could easily make an argument the team's most consistent, automatic player is their kicker, Dan Bailey, who just finished the final year of his contract by going 28-of-30 on field goals and nailing every kick from Week 5 on. He's now set to become a restricted free agent.
"It's been a great first three years here and I think it's a great place to kick," Bailey said. "It's obviously a first-class organization, so I can't really see any negatives to playing here. So yeah, I'd love to stay here if I could. We'll just kind of see what happens. Hopefully I'll be able to stick around a little longer."
Bailey went undrafted after the 2011 NFL Draft, putting the Cowboys in position to snag what would become one of the most reliable kickers in the league for the next three seasons. He's gone 89-of-98 since joining the league, hitting field goals at a 90.8 percent clip.
He's missed just two field goals each of his past two seasons and has now compiled back-to-back seasons hitting at least 93 percent of his field goal attempts. Bailey said he put his contract situation on the backburner as he focused on this season, but it now needs to move to the forefront as the Cowboys make their plans for next season.
As a restricted free agent, the Cowboys could match any offer made to Bailey. Since Bailey went undrafted, if the Cowboys let the kicker go they'd likely have to offer him at least a second-round tender ($2.02 million) to receive any draft-choice compensation.
Bailey didn't have a direct response when asked if his benchmark would be what Robbie Gould made. The Bears kicker signed a four-year extension reportedly worth a total of $15 million, including $9 million guaranteed.
"My goal is just to play the best I can every year and hopefully string a bunch of good years together," Bailey said. "I think that anything that happens beyond that is just part of working in the NFL, so my focus is just to be the best teammate and player I can and try to perform to my best ability every day and at practice and in games. Whatever happens beyond that is out of my control. All I can control is what I can do." [embedded_ad]
The Cowboys have to hope they can keep Bailey in Dallas. They undoubtedly value their kicker, whom they named a team captain and an offseason award winner for the work he put in prior to the season.
His leg got stronger in the offseason, and it showed in 2013. Bailey had hit no more than three field goals of at least 50 yards in either of his first two seasons in the league. This year, he was 6-of-7 on kicks of at least 50 yards, drilling two in each of his games against the Chiefs, Lions and Packers.
That leg strength was also visible on his kickoffs. More than half of Bailey's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Bailey hoped he'd get a shot to send the Cowboys to the playoffs, trailing by two points with the ball on their final possession against the Eagles in the season finale. Bailey said the way Kyle Orton had played that day, he was confident he'd get in a position to decide the team's fate.
He also didn't feel there was a specific limit to the distance he was willing to try to kick it.
"In that situation, anything really," Bailey said. "You've got to have it. I don't know if you could put a number on it, whatever we needed to have to win the game, I was up for it."
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, he'd never get the chance to test his leg. Bailey had fooled around midway through the year at practice with a breeze behind him and said he'd hit either a 67- or 68-yard field goal before.
"We were just messing around," Bailey recalled. "It was after the San Francisco and St. Louis game, and San Francisco had like a free kick fair catch on a 70-yarder or something. So we were like, we might as well practice that. It might come up."
Now the only thing coming up is Bailey's contract, which will be a topic of debate until the Cowboys can lock up their star kicker.