Kicking It In Gear

selecting Dave Rayner, but the sixth-round pick wore out his welcome after 14 games and on came Jose Cortez (yep, same guy). 

That means the Cowboys can't be done in the kicking department. They need to find a kick-off guy. Now some teams get by using their punter for kickoffs, as the Cowboys twice did with Toby Gowin and with Micah Knorr. But Mat McBriar doesn't kick off, and I'm doubting the Cowboys want to give up on this up-and-coming punter because they have to find a dual-purpose one. 

So they got to go get one, and you know the head coach. Bill Parcells is so particular about his 53-man roster, especially with the 46 guys he takes to the game on Sunday that this will just crush him having to use one spot on a kick-off guy instead of having another special-teams ace in uniform. 

But, that's the price the Cowboys have to pay. They didn't want to shell out the $3.5 million signing bonus and $2.5 million a year for Vinatieri, whose agent gave the Cowboys about an hour to beat the five-year offer he signed with the Colts. They got beaten to the punch on Bryant, the guy they really wanted, who re-signed with Tampa Bay when Vinatieri's other agent tried to big-time the Bucs at the start of free agency. And they didn't really get into the sweepstakes for Ryan Longwell, who signed a five-year, $10 million deal with Minnesota ($3 mil SB). 

Plus, without Steve Hoffman still around (he's with the Falcons now), they couldn't count on rustling the bushes for a young, unproven guy, who probably didn't fit into the Cowboys' current philosophy of making that playoff run this year. And it sure didn't seem as if Shaun Suisham was ready to take on the big time or Big Bill. 

That meant opening up the coffers for a kicker for the very first time. I mean, since Rafael Septien kicked nine seasons (1978-86) for the Cowboys, everyone else has been no more than three years and out, and there has been only three of those - Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham and Cundiff. Plus, Cunningham didn't make it all the way through his third year (1999) and Cundiff actually outdid them all in the end since he got three years and six games. 

Also, since there was no minimum wages back in the day, and certainly no salary cap until 1994, I'm guessing veteran Eddie Murray might have become the team's highest-paid kicker (per game) when he was re-signed during the 1999 season to take over for the faltering Cunningham. Again, he only made a fraction of the grand total since he kicked in only the final four games. 

And come on, way back in the day, guys such as Septien, Efren Herrera and Toni Fritsch didn't make squat. Probably about what practice squad guys get now, if that. Ah, the life of a kee-ker. 

So Vanderjagt becomes the highest paid kicker in Cowboys history. He also becomes the most experienced one to start a season since Septien in 1986. Now he just needs to be one of the most productive, and for all of you who have been moaning about the Cowboys going on the cheap for kickers, remember, Cunningham made 82.9 percent of his kicks in 1998, which followed a 91.9 percentage in 1997. Plus, Boniol's last two years were 96.4 and 88.9 percent. And Cundiff was 79.3 in Parcells' first year (2003). So watch the cheapskates perception. 

The Cowboys were just beating the system. 

And who knows what would have happened last year if Cundiff had not suffered the quad/groin tear the last day of training camp. Maybe he would not have unraveled as he did those final couple of games last year after being out of work for nearly three months. Maybe he would have been there to make the crucial 41-yard field goal Cortez missed against the Redskins in the first half of the Game 2, a 14-13 loss, or the 29-yarder in the fourth quarter of the 13-10 loss to Seattle. And maybe he would have been in a better groove by Thanksgiving, and not missed the 34-yarder with 7:42 left in the 21-21 game against Denver the Cowboys eventually lost in overtime. 

But that's that the way it was, and why the Cowboys had no choice but to pony up for a kicker for the first time in club history. And now the kicker must just do what he's gone. 

Because if he does, this puzzle just might be whole.    Continue reading: Page 1 Page 3

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border=0 width=100% cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0>    Man, what a shock to vice president Stephen Jones' salary-cap system, having to budget a $1.73 million hit for a kicker when he's never budgeted anything more than Cundiff's $656,000 restricted free agency charge of last year that got wiped off the books when he was released at the end of camp.      Well, with Tank Williams signing with Minnesota, that just about dries up the free safety market, and it would appear the Cowboys will have to address that need at some point in the draft, maybe from the second round on. Can't see them using a third first-round pick on a defensive back, especially since they are paying corner Anthony Henry like one.      With deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur signing his exclusive free agency contract, the Cowboys will now have a Canadian kicking operation since Vanderjagt is from Oakville, Ontario, and Ladouceur is from Montreal. Oh, Canada. And you know, last year's holder, Tony Romo, is from up that way, growing up in Wisconsin.      The debate will rage if Larry Allen still is capable of playing. I'm guessing he can get another year or two in, if he plays in a system where he doesn't have to pull much, if at all. But guarantee you he won't be counting $7.55 million against someone's cap. That's just prohibitive, unless you are the starting left tackle in the prime of your career.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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