Cowboys Release Preseason Starter After Signing New Kicker

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Getty Cowboys owner Jerry Jones with head coach Mike McCarthy.

In a corresponding roster move after signing kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, the Dallas Cowboys waived/injured punter Hunter Niswander, the team announced Thursday, August 19.

A former undrafted free agent and ex-XFL participant, Niswander joined the Cowboys in 2020 and made eight appearances, averaging 47.2 yards per punt on 26 boots as an injury replacement for veteran Chris Jones. He was retained this offseason and subsequently thrust into a starting competition with P Bryan Anger, whom the team signed in April.

“I think he’s put in a tremendous bid for a job in the NFL and definitely one here,” Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel said of Niswander last December, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News.

Things changed this preseason.

Niswander’s Performance in the Preseason Opener Was ‘Unacceptable’

After Dallas lost kicker Greg Zuerlein (back) to the Physically Unable to Perform list, where he remains, Niswander was forced to pull double-duty at the onset of training camp. It did not go swimmingly.

Niswander attempted two field goals amid the Cowboys’ preseason opener against the Steelers: a 29-yard attempt that was blocked and a 52-yarder that never had a chance.

“I know I missed it. Either way it’s unacceptable,” he said of the shank, via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. “Left my hips open on that one.”

The 26-year-old performed more ably in the second exhibition contest, connecting on all three tries and drilling his lone extra point in a 19-16 loss to Arizona.

Six days later, he’s out of a job.

Tough business, that NFL.

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Zuerlein on Track for Week 1 Return

Although not ideal, Dallas’ primary placekicker on the shelf all summer, the bigger goal is getting the former All-Pro ready for the September 9 regular-season lid-lifter at Tampa Bay. So far, so good.

Gehlken reported on August 19 that Zuerlein converted eight-of-eight FG tries in warmups prior to the exhibition against the Cardinals — setback-free — and enjoyed a “great kicking session” on Thursday, according to Fassel, who previously quelled concerns over his longtime pupil’s Week 1 status.

“Greg has actually already started kicking. He hasn’t done it in the group setting, but our trainers put him on a great ‘back to kicking’ protocol, if you will,” Fassel said on August 10, via the official Cowboys website. “About two weeks ago he started with no-step kicks, then he graduated to one-step kicks and now he’s doing full-step kicks. We’re hoping hopefully this weekend, maybe even (Friday’s) Arizona (preseason game) pre-game that he’ll hit a few operation kicks with our snapper and our holder.”

Zuerlein, 33, underwent back surgery earlier this offseason, prompting his PUP designation. He’s entering his second season with the Cowboys after nailing 34 of 41 field-goal attempts and 33 of 36 extra-point tries in 2020.

Fassel believes Zuerlein’s extended absence — “a blessing in disguise” — will benefit both the kicker and the club for the upcoming campaign.

“I think the timing is going to great,” he said, “and by (the August 29 preseason finale against) Jacksonville or at least Week 1 (against Tampa Bay) he’s going to be 100% on all cylinders.”

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