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Mick Shots: Still Kicking Around in Thick Weeds


FRISCO, Texas - Here is the good news knowing the Cowboys would like to sign a veteran kicker to compete with the inexperienced Tristan Vizcaino for their vacant job.

Denver released nine-year veteran kicker Brandon McManus this week, adding another into a small pool of available veteran kickers.

Now the bad news.

The Broncos brought in the best available veteran kicker for a physical and workout with two other little-known kickers. His name, Brett Maher, yes, that Cowboys unrestricted free agent kicker Brett Maher, who kicked for now Broncos head coach Sean Payton during the final half of the 2021 season for the Saints before signing with the Cowboys for 2022 after a training camp kickoff.

While Maher flamed out last season after a brilliant regular season when missing those four extra points in the first-round playoff win over Tampa Bay, the Cowboys have been hesitant to bring him back, fearing the yips, although special teams coach John Fassel said during the recent rookie minicamp that when asked about the possibility of bringing Maher back, "I think everything is on the table."

But that table is not really crowded with experienced kickers. And after scouring the NFL's current rosters there is at least eight other teams in need of an accomplished kicker at this point of the offseason with OTA workouts already having begun, the Cowboys team-wide minicamp like two weeks away.

As for McManus now available, there are a couple of reasons the Broncos chose to jump into the kicker abyss. First, McManus was scheduled to count $4.98 million against the salary cap for 2023. Second, the Broncos' nine-year veteran converted just 77.8 percent of his field goal attempts this past season (28 of 36), his lowest since 75 percent in 2017. And while kicking a Mile High in home games, his kickoff percentage of touchbacks was just 69.9 and was just eight of 13 on field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards.

By comparison, Maher converted 29 of 32 field-goal attempts (92.6 percent) during the regular season, making nine of 11 from 50-plus yards, 50 of 53 extra points during the 17-game regular season and 78 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He did have one extra point blocked in that playoff loss to the 49ers but did make two field goals.

So, McManus joins Maher and a veteran group of available kickers at this point with Mason Crosby, Robbie Gould and Ryan Succop. And as evidence of a thin group of kickers out there, brought in with Maher for the Denver workout were Elliott Fry and Parker White, neither on an NFL roster last year and Fry having made five of his six NFL field goal attempts over two seasons and just five of seven extra points. Parker has yet to kick in an NFL game.

Pretty slim pickings.

And as for Vizcaino, he has only kicked in 10 NFL games over the past three seasons, his most extended stay being with the Chargers in 2021 when he made five of six field goals attempts – five of those no more than 39 yards – but just 10 of 15 extra points for a career total of 15 for 20. He also has struggled on kickoff depth, converting just 18 of 44 for touchbacks (40.9 percent)

Once again, no wonder when Fassel was answering questions about solving the Cowboys kicking conundrum, he said, "We've got Tristan on the roster and anybody else on Earth that's not on a team right now … is under consideration."


·      Lasting Memories: Was fortunate to be old enough to remember watching Jim Brown run roughshod over NFL defenders for the Cleveland Browns in the early 1960s. Gosh, defenders really didn't want to tackle him or even get in the way to try, having led the NFL in rushing during eight of his nine NFL season before retiring after the 1965 season with an NFL career high at the time 12,312 rushing yards. Also have this vision of Brown staring in the 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen, the 1967 account documenting how 12 convicts became a military unit during WWII and trained for suicide missions in advance of D-Day. Then there is this in 2007 while at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, Jim Brown helped push the wheelchair of his right guard with the Browns, Gene Hickerson, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, onto the stage for induction. 

·      Fair Change: In the NFL's continued attempt to reduce injuries in the game, especially concussions, can't argue with the altered kickoff rule change, where the receiving team can signal for a fair catch as long as the kick passes the 25-yard line, resulting in a touchback with the possession starting at the 25. That will reduce the number of times the kicking team tries to place the kick in the corner of the field between the 10 and goal line to pin the returner down and potentially limit the return to less than the 25-yard line. NFL contends this one-year trial alteration will reduce the kickoff return rate from 38 percent to 31 percent and are projecting dropping the concussion rates suffered on kickoffs by 15 percent. Much better than jacking with the operation the way the XFL and USFL is doing.

·      Volunteers: No, not Tennessee, the participating members of the ensuing Organized Team Activities workouts that are underway for the Cowboys. While participation is encouraged, these are voluntary practices. Nothing in the offseason is mandatory until the three-day minicamp the first full week in June. Always brings me back to the days of what used to be called Quarterback School workouts that morphed into OTAs when Cowboys former linebacker Darren Hambrick infamously said after missing a couple of the workouts in the late 1990s when questioned about his absences, "What do voluntary mean?"

·      OTA Day: We get to watch our first OTA workout on Thursday, but since there is no blocking or tackling while players are wearing only helmets, jerseys and short, these practices are more about where guys are lining up. For instance, looking at the Cowboys offensive line with starting right tackle Terence Steele still rehabbing after his ACL surgery. The Cowboys finished the season with Tyron Smith returning from his injury to play right tackle. Still there? And from a seniority standpoint with Connor McGovern leaving in free agency, left guard is wide open. Matt Farniok and free agent Chuma Edoga probably will get the first chances there based on seniority. But this position likely will stage an allcomers meet with guys trying to play multiple positions like tackles Josh Ball and fifth-round pick Asim Richards. So, stay tuned.

·      QB Encouragement: With the NFL now allowing teams to dress an emergency third quarterback on game day, teams will be encouraged to carry three QBs on their 53-man rosters instead of two, with the third guy on the practice squad. Teams must designate an emergency third QB 90 minutes before kickoff when they also designate their seven inactives. The only catch becomes the emergency quarterback is only allowed to play after the starter and backup are ruled out injured or disqualified from the game. This is a nod to fix what happened in the NFC title game when San Francisco starter Brock Purdy left the game early with an elbow injury and then backup Josh Johnson suffered a concussion, forcing Purdy back into the game to basically take only snaps from center and handoff. Solid move here.

·      Hats Off: To the Cowboys PR team, selected as a nominee and finishing runner-up for the Pro Football Writers Association's prestigious Pete Rozelle Award, given to the public relations staff consistently striving for excellence in dealing with the media and named after the late NFL commissioner and former PR and GM with the Los Angeles Rams, credited with hiring a young Tex Schramm to his department. Nice honor for Tad Carper, Scott Agulnek, Joe Trahan, Dave Abbruzese and Bronte Hermesmeyer.

·      Shorties: Speaking of quarterbacks, and specifically Josh Johnson, my gosh the guy just got signed by the Ravens for the third time, going into his 16th season in the NFL encompassing either 53-man rosters or practice squads, having played for 14 different teams … Oh, and with the ever-transitioning Washington Commanders, they are fixing to kick off in the 2023 season opener with their seventh straight different starting quarterback, going from Kirk Cousins in 2017 to Alex Smith, Case Keenum, the late Dwayne  Haskins, Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz this past season, and sounds as if Sam Howell is the front runner for this year … And lastly, saw this plug on the back window of an advertisement for "pluming (sic)" services. 

And for this week's last word, we turn to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from this NFL owners meetings in Minneapolis, Minn., when fellow owners approved a measure to potentially flex Thursday Night Football games being streamed on Prime Video with a 28-day notice in the Week 13-17 window.

Definitely a nod to how important these lucrative television contracts have become, and knowing these games reach far more fans nationwide than those ticket-buying folks in the stadiums.

So when Jones was asked about flexing games to create the best TV matchups in the final weeks of the season, he had this to say:

"We're certainly going to show the media industry that we're going to do everything we can to make streaming on Thursday nights successful."

And when asked about the effect on fans buying tickets ahead of time for such games, he said, "Everybody in that room, every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity to those fans and know how important each and every one of them are. But only seven percent of our fans have been inside a stadium, seven percent.

"So we've got a lot of fans, a huge majority of the fans that are out there (watching TV). This is good for them."

And the golden goose.

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