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Kicking Around Free Agency

has spent the past nine years in Green Bay, taking over for one Brett Conway, a, by the way, 1997 third-round pick of the Packers. Longwell's 2005 base was $1 million, but had received a hefty signing bonus from the Packers. Now he's an 82-percent career kicker, and that's pretty stout kicking in Green Bay. But last year he was 20-for-27. Heck, the Cowboys were 20-for-28. Also, Longwell was just nine-for-15 between 30-49 yards. The Cowboys threesome finished nine-for-16. 

Maybe also Matt Bryant, who came through the Cowboys training camp in 2004. Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells liked him, but a pulled leg muscle late in the preseason effectively ended whatever competition was going on with Cundiff. Bryant was released on the final cut. Bryant kicked for Tampa Bay this past season, connecting on 21-of-25 attempts. That makes him 61-of-75 (81 percent) for his career, one in which he has bounced here and there, including stays in NFL Europe and the Arena Football League. 

So how much are we talkin' to spend here? 

Well, Rackers and Jeff Wilkins were issued four-year extensions at the 2005 deadline. Both received similar deals, Wilkins a $6.4 million package that included a $3 million signing bonus and Rackers a $6.75 million package. And because the Cards had cap room remaining the second week in November, he received what amounted to a $2.25 million signing bonus (raise on his 2005 base salary), along with bases of $1.8 million, $800,000, $800,000 and $1.1 million. 

Gosh, and to think the Cowboys have been paying peanuts for this position. Since Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrived, the highest paid kicker might have been veteran Eddie Murray, and at that, he received the veteran minimum. Next likely was what Cundiff was supposed to make this past season since no kicker lasted more than the three seasons of Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham and Cundiff. And as it turned out, none returned for their restricted free-agent season (fourth). 

With the Cowboys always snuggled up against the cap, Jones simply turned to Hoffman to find a new one. Now it's time to pay. 

As it stands, Shaun Suisham is signed for the 2006 season, and the Cowboys still own the rights to Brett Visintainer, who spent the entire season on injured reserve (back). But that he's still around is more for rehab purposes than any sort of future. And that's it. 

And as ambitious as the Cowboys are sounding, that's not near enough when it comes to a kicker for 2006. 

Now as we found out during these past playoffs, no matter how good you might think these kickers are, there are no perfect kickers. Not Vanderjagt, not Vinatieri and not Seattle's Josh Brown, even if he was perfect against the Cowboys from 55 and 50. 

And don't think the Cowboys will be the only bidders out there. Hey, if New England doesn't re-sign or franchise Vinatieri, and Green Bay lets Longwell go and Indy lets Vanderjagt walk, won't they, too, be looking for kickers this off-season? The buyers' floor could be crowded out there. 

The bigger the crowd, the bigger the cost. 

But if the Cowboys having to jump into this market should create buyer's remorse, just look at it this way: They spent $1.8 million on Peerless Price this past season. They spent another million on Anthony Thomas. 

Take that $3 million and get you one of these kickers. 

After all, what's the alternative?   

!   After the Rhein Fire completed its first training camp practice, this was the note on Cowboys quarterback Drew Henson: "The ball jumps out of his hand, and on the intermediate out-routes and slants he showed his arm strength." 
!   The Texas Sports Hall of Fame will holds its annual induction banquet Wednesday in Waco, Texas. The newest class will include from the football world Emmitt Smith, Tim Brown and former Texas A&M head coach R. C. Slocum. 

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