Jan. 19, 2004, 5:14 p.m. (CST)
way to more lucrative contracts elsewhere and then having to start over finding someone else seemingly every couple of years. This was invaluable during the salary cap era.
This process with kickers began in 1990 with some guy named Ken Willis, who lasted two years before getting some Plan B bucks to sign with Tampa Bay. Hoffman continued on with the likes of Lin Elliott, Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham, Tim Seder and now Billy Cundiff. Only once during his 16 years did the Cowboys have a veteran kicker, Eddie Murray bailing out a struggling Elliott (and really, Cowboys team) in 1993 for one year.
There was an amazing stretch there for three years (1995-97) when the combination of Boniol (1995-96) and Cunningham (1997) missed only eight of 101 field-goal attempts. You kidding me?
The Cowboys went through the same process with punters. After the inherited Mike Saxon moved on following the 1992 Super Bowl season, it was back to rustling the bushes, finding the likes of John Jett, Toby Gowin, Micah Knorr and Mat McBriar. Only in 2003 did the Cowboys resort to signing a veteran punter, and that didn't work out too well with Gowin's reunion, lasting just one season.
With all these guys, we're talking no signing bonuses and minimum wage. Only Jett lasted long enough - four years - to receive a restricted free-agent offer sheet. The rest, no more than three years and gone - and guys like Willis and Jett and Boniol and Gowin parlayed their stay here into lucrative signing bonuses elsewhere.
You watch what happens with Cundiff if the Cowboys choose not to retain right of first refusal when he becomes a restricted free agent this off-season.
Just this past season, the Cowboys spent all of $610,000 on their two kickers. Cundiff made 20 of 26 field-goal attempts - like two short of the sought-after 80-percent mark, and he did have two graze off the upright. Three of his six misses came from 49, 52 and 52 yards. He was a perfect 11 of 11 inside the 40, and for all the wailing about his kickoffs, the Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL covering kicks, their opponents' average start the 25.5-yard line.
McBriar, a first-year kicker without much experience, having grown up in Australia, finished with a 42.4 average. That's the best punting average for the Cowboys since Knorr's 42.8 in 2000. In fact, there has been only four better season averages for the Cowboys since 1993 and only one net-average better than his 35.1 this season in the past five seasons.
Now, though, the Cowboys will likely join the free-agent market for kickers, and that's a tad more costly. Here's a sampling of the base salary going rates for this 2004 season: Philly's Jeff Akers, $925,000; Green Bay's Ryan Longwell, $1 million; New England's Adam Vinatieri, $1.425 million; Detroit's Jason Hanson, $800,000; Jets' Doug Brien, $760,000 and scheduled to count $1.2 million against their 2005 cap; and Denver's Jason Elam, $760,000. And remember, those are bases, and don't include signing bonuses for these veterans with lengthy contracts.
Hey, even some of these punters are being paid well: Chicago's Brad Maynard, $900,000; Minnesota's Darren Bennett, $709,500; New Orleans' Mitch Berger, $667,500; and Atlanta's Chris Mohr, $755,000.
Who knows, maybe the combination of Parcells, special teams coach Bruce DeHaven and new scouting director Jeff Ireland, a college kicker himself, will be able to continue this Cowboys tradition of finding young, talented kickers and punters. After all, since Hoffman had been the only full-time kicking coach in the league, these other teams do find guys.
But when they do find them, they tend to keep them. And when you keep them, then you pay one what the Cowboys paid two this past season.
Now no one likes to lose their job, and in this coaching profession, when that happens after a losing season, blame appears to being laid. But who knows, Hoffman might just land one of those lucrative consultant jobs we all aspire to have. More pay and less work.
And when the emotions settle, and that bottle of oil finally gets thrown away, Hoffman will be able to look back at an unbelievable run here in Dallas, not only one which included three Super Bowl rings, but lasted an uncommon length of 16