The Dallas Cowboys have publicly backed starting kicker Greg Zuerlein after missing two key field goals in the team’s two-point loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet, their recent roster moves show that the pressure is now on Zuerlein to perform as the team plans to add kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to the practice squad, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
“The Cowboys are expected to re-sign kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to their practice squad, source said,” Pelissero noted in a series of tweets. “A contingency plan after Greg Zuerlein’s struggles in the opener. Greg Zuerlein had back surgery in the offseason and spent much of camp on the PUP list. A situation to monitor after some uncharacteristic misses against the Bucs.”
The Cowboys have some familiarity with Hajrullahu after signing him in August only to waive the kicker days later. Hajrullahu bounced around the NFL during the preseason but is still looking for a full-time home.
The newest Cowboys kicker had great success in the CFL with his accomplishments including being a two-time All-Star and Grey Cup champion. Hajrullahu has also had short NFL stints with the Rams and Panthers.
DallasCowboys.com’s David Helman referred to the upcoming roster move as the team’s way of being “proactive” in case Zuerlein is not able to turn things around.
“I call this progress,” Helman tweeted. “No need to cut Greg Zuerlein off of one bad game, but for years we’ve seen the Cowboys tend to bury their head in the sand about potential problems. Nice to see them do something proactive.”
Jones on Zuerlein’s Week 1 Performance: ‘We Really Paid the Price of Not Having Our Kicker in Training Camp’
Zuerlein missed all of the preseason as he recovered from offseason back surgery. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones offered a tepid endorsement of Zuerlein’s long-term future and admitted the team “paid the price” for the veteran kicker missing training camp.
“I felt like we really paid the price of not having our kicker in training camp,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan, per USA Today. “I look back and when you don’t have a kicker that’s real active in training camp, you may be kidding yourself in early ball games is he really ready to go. The loss isn’t to be blamed on the kicker. But still, if we had had some execution on (some) of those kicks, it might have made a big difference here.”
Zuerlein: ‘If I Do My Job, We win the Game’
It is not just Jones who was frustrated with the team’s kicking woes in the Cowboys’ loss to the Bucs. Zuerlein placed the blame on his own shoulders minutes after the game. The Cowboys kicker noted, “if I do my job, we win that game.”
“Like you said, no excuses,” Zuerlein said when asked about his health being a factor in his struggles. “If I’m out there, I should make the kicks, and so there is no excuses. …Yeah, I think there’s a lot of good that can taken from this. I think, I mean, I know we played well enough to win. If I do my job, we win that game. So, I feel bad for the guys in there that played their a** off, and I didn’t hold up my end of the deal. With the team that’s that good, returning every player from the Super Bowl victory, we’re right there. We’re right there, and I just have to do my job.”
While it is admirable for Zuerlein to take the blame, the Cowboys had plenty of other issues that also contributed to the team’s loss, including a few breakdowns in the secondary. For now, Zuerlein is still the Cowboys kicker but the recent signing puts even more pressure on him heading into Week 2. Zuerlein still has two seasons remaining on his three-year, $7.5 million deal, per Spotrac.