A common concern and criticism throughout the offseason, through the preseason and into the start of the regular season, was Dallas’ handling of the kicker position. After watching its implosion late in 2022, the Cowboys were rather nonchalant in their approach in 2023. Fans saw a position that had the ability to ruin an otherwise brilliant season.
The Cowboys front office saw a situation that didn’t warrant even modest resources. They allowed Brett Maher, their 2022 starter, to leave in free agency and took a wait-and-see approach with project kicker, Tristen Vizcaino. When other teams were scrambling to sign, trade or draft kickers over the offseason, Dallas sat tight.
It wasn’t until July until the Cowboys acted. But instead of signing veteran free agent kickers Mason Crosby or Robbie Gould, Dallas turned to the USFL and signed the Birmingham Stallions standout, Brandon Aubrey.
Aubrey went 14-of-15 in the Stallion’s championship run and came to the NFL as a former professional soccer player. His presence on the roster did little to alleviate outside concern and the kicker conversation remained an ongoing point of contention to fans and media members throughout training camp.
As camp rolled on, Vizcaino kicked himself off the roster and Aubrey won the top spot almost by default. When other teams conducted last moment trades at the roster deadline to shore up kicking weaknesses, Dallas again sat content.
For better or for worse, the Cowboys were starting the season with Aubrey as their kicker.
So far, so good
After a nightmarish start to his NFL career where he missed his first extra point attempt, badly, Aubrey bounced back making the next five extra point attempts and all seven field goals of varying depths.
On Sunday against the Jets, Aubrey’s leg was put to the test. The Cowboys knew he had power, but they had yet to gauge the accuracy of that power in game action.
One 55-yard field goal later, they wondered no longer.
Don’t look now but Cowboys kicker, Brandon Aubrey, leads all kickers in points & touchbacks. His 55-yarder is currently fourth longest in the NFL & his range indicates he’s only scratched the surface. pic.twitter.com/H31i81pimC
— Reid D Hanson (@ReidDHanson) September 18, 2023
Through two games, Aubrey’s 26 points leads all NFL kickers this season. He’s one of 14 placekickers who are flawless in field goal percentage and his 16 touchbacks lead the league by a whopping four.
Are the Cowboys smart or lucky?
Aubrey has arguably been the NFL’s top kicker this season, begging the question: Are the Cowboys smart or lucky?
The answer is both.
As discussed early in the offseason, kicking in the NFL is a widely unstable task and even proven veterans aren’t impervious to sudden disaster. Everyone not named Justin Tucker is susceptible to a down season and young unproven options are often better than retreads on the decline.
Brett Maher was a retread for Dallas in 2022 and he understandably had busloads of doubters heading into last season. All he did was post a career year and become one of the Cowboys’ most accurate kickers since Dan Bailey.
He was great until he wasn’t, which speaks to the point that kicker performance can change in an instant and investing money or draft picks in the position does little to stop that.
With that said, the Cowboys are also lucky. Things could have just as easily turned out disastrous for Aubrey. Dallas didn’t have a veteran back-up waiting in the wings and would have to hope free agent options remained on the market if the Aubrey plan blew up in their faces.
The potential for failure still exists. The season is young and when the score gets close and pressure gets dialed up, anything can happen.
The Cowboys know the gamble at kicker is unavoidable whether the kicker is a proven veteran or an untested rookie. They prioritized power by choosing a player with high-end traits and turned up their noses at power-deficient veteran options.
There’s no telling whether the good times will last, but they know Aubrey’s ceiling is as high as anyone in the league. They’ve also seen him bounce back from a terrible miss already, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward.