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Position Series: Free-Agent Question Marks Don't Escape Special Teams Units

Editor's Note: This is the final edition of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2015 season. Today, we examine the special teams units.

Pressing Matters:The Cowboys have their share of questions at every position and special teams is definitely included. For starters, punter Chris Jones is a restricted free agent. They could give him the minimum qualifying tender of about $1.5 million to keep him, but that's considerably more than the Cowboys probably want to pay for a punter. Then again, Jones is also a good holder for kicker Dan Bailey, but even at that, look for the Cowboys to try and keep Jones at a lower price. Also, return specialist Dwayne Harris is an unrestricted free agent. Don't be surprised if a team with needs at both returner and for a slot receiver look to pay Harris. And the team's best coverage player, C.J. Spillman, is also an unrestricted free agent, so they have some decisions to make regarding special teams.

2014 Evaluation: The Cowboys were pretty good once again in the kicking game, headlined by Bailey. Now, he did miss two of his three postseason attempts, but he was still one of the NFL's best and most accurate kickers throughout the season. Jones had a better season in 2014 as a punter, but nothing spectacular. Harris wasn't a major factor as a returner, although his value as a do-it-all specialist on both sides of the return game is hard to match. Once again, the coverage teams were rather solid. The longest kick return against the Cowboys last year was 46 yards and 37 yards was the longest punt return. Down the stretch, Spillman showed the Cowboys his value and he could be a priority to bring back at a reasonable price. 

Need More From … The Cowboys need more from their return game, although with a potent offense, the team's starting point on the field isn't always a major factor. But coming off a spectacular 2013 season that might have included a Pro Bowl selection had he not gotten injured, Harris wasn't a huge factor as a return specialist in 2014. He averaged 9.2 yards on punt returns (ninth in the NFL) and 24.2 yards on kick returns (12th in the NFL). Nothing flashy, but still rather solid. But if the Cowboys choose to re-sign Harris, it's likely they will want him to be more of a difference-maker in the return game. Then again, he's also a good role player on offense and runs down on kickoffs and punts. Harris is a good player for the Cowboys, but could give them a little more as a returner.

Upgrades Needed:At kicker and long snapper, the Cowboys have two of the best in the league. L.P. Ladouceur was selected to his first Pro Bowl this past season and has arguably been the most consistent player the Cowboys have had over the past decade. As for Bailey, it's hard to complain about the NFL's most accurate kicker of all time, so those two spots are solid. The Cowboys could use an upgrade at punter, where Jones is right around the middle of pack in both net punting (14th) and punt average (18th), but it's likely the club will offer him a deal closer to the league minimum to keep their special-teams trio of Jones, Bailey and Ladouceur intact for 2015.

 By The Numbers:

  • Bailey set the Cowboys' record with 30 consecutive field goals made this season, a streak that started back in 2013. In four years, he has three of the Cowboys' five longest streaks, along with streaks of 26 and 21 straight made.
  • Bailey ranks second on the Cowboys' all-time list of field goals made with 114, trailing only Rafael Septien (162). His 521 points scored is third in club history behind only Septien (874) and Emmitt Smith (986).
  • Bailey made his 100th field goal in 2014, becoming the second-fastest kicker in NFL history to reach the mark. He hit the milestone in just 54 career games, just behind Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud, who got to 100 field goals in 53 games. 
  • With 10 seasons under his belt, Ladouceur trails only Tony Romo and Jason Witten (12 seasons) as the most-tenured Cowboys player on the current roster.
  • Harris became the seventh player in franchise history to reach 2,000 kickoff return yards. With 2,040 yards, he needs just 377 kick return yards to move into second place in club history.  

Position Series: Special Teams

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