One year after many wondered why there wasn't one in Dallas, the Cowboys will have an intriguing competition at kicker leading into the 2020 season. The decision by the team to view Brett Maher as a viable successor to Dan Bailey blew up in their face several times before they finally decided to dodge additional shrapnel and release Maher in 2019, but the damage had been done -- by way of a 66.7 percent accuracy rate that included 10 misses from 30 yards out or more. They signed Kai Forbath as his replacement in December, and Forbath went a perfect 10-for-10 through four games, and was recently awarded a one-year deal because of it.
But he'll now have to contend with Greg Zuerlein, who signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal in March that includes $2.25 million guaranteed. The financial aspect alone hints at Zuerlein getting the nod over Forbath in 2020, and then there's the fact he's migrating over from the Los Angeles Rams where he played under special teams coordinator John "Bones" Fassel -- who signed on with the Cowboys as part of McCarthy's coaching rebuild in January.
"I always thought I would be a Ram for life," Zuerlein admits, via ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. "And for one reason or another, things happened the way they did. [Special teams coordinator John Fassel] left and when he did, I thought, 'This guy brought me into the league. He stuck by me. We work very well together.'
"And when he landed in Dallas, I thought, 'You know what? If I'm not going to be with the Rams, Dallas would be awesome -- I would love to be a Cowboy.'"
Anyone who has already crowned Zuerlein the victor in the head-to-head with Forbath should pull back on the reins though, because even he knows anything can happen.
As mentioned, Forbath was flawless in December for the Cowboys, while Zuerlein himself was struggling to put the ball between the uprights for the Rams. The latter registered a career-worst accuracy rate of 72.7 percent in Los Angeles, which includes missing eight field goals from 40 yards or greater. He's two years removed from his career-best season of 95 percent accuracy in 2017, leaving some to wonder if his two-year downturn is similar to the one that eventually got Bailey ousted from Dallas.
"Obviously, I did not perform up to my ability last year," Zuerlein said of his 2019 struggles, attributing them to several, undisclosed reasons. "It was a very bad year for me. But that's in the past. I'm not going to let what's happened in the past change what I do or get in the way of my preparation for this season.
"There's no doubt in my mind I will be back to my normal self this year."
As for the coming competition with Forbath, he says it's simply two guys who like each other fighting for the same spot.
"I know Kai from having him come in and working out at the Rams facility in the past, and he's a great guy," Zuerlein said. "I look forward to being around him, learning from him and, hopefully, we just have a good competition. Ideally, I win. ... I mean, you go anywhere and expect to win the job if you have any sort of confidence at all.
"I just look forward to being around him. I've been with other kickers in camp, and there's never any animosity. Kickers -- we get along very well. You go out there and you kick, and you let the kicking speak for itself. You don't have to let friendships get in the way of a job. You go out there, do your best and the rest is up for the coaches to decide."
If Forbath does end up beating out Zuerlein, the cap hit won't exactly be the end of the world. It would be a situation similar to the 2006 season, when they signed Mike Vanderjagt to a three-year, $5.4 million deal with the hopes of solving their kicking woes, but released him mid-season when they realized he was anything but. So while there's a glaring nod to Zuerlein in spring via his contract and the connection to Fassel, Forbath has no plans on laying down and charitably giving away a shot at finally sticking with an NFL team after eight attempts since 2011 -- when it was the Cowboys themselves signing him out of free agency.
That's right, there's an even deeper plot twist here. Forbath was once brought in to battle Bailey, but an injury ended his chances. A decade later, he finds himself battling Zuerlien for the right to be Bailey's successor.
Time will tell who wins out, but the new collective bargaining agreement does give the Cowboys a chance at carrying both kickers if they need more time to figure it all out beyond August. Teams can carry up to 48 players on their active game roster and 55 players overall, but the additional two players must be called up from the practice squad. So while neither Zuerlein nor Forbath qualify for the practice squad themselves, if both are indeed carried on the active roster, there are two extra seats still vacant to promote depth at any other position of need on a weekly basis.
Zuerlein isn't naive to that fact either, and while he'd rather win outright, if it becomes a photo finish -- both kickers could initially retain their jobs in Dallas.
"With the new rules, you can potentially have two kickers if a team decided to go that way."
The operative word here being "if.''