K Billy Cundiff set a Dallas record last fall with a 56-yard field goal
A little less than a year ago, just before beginning their annual foray into the free agent market, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed kicker Matt Bryant.
This year, the Bucs have started the offseason in a similar fashion, announcing on Saturday the signing of former Dallas Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff.
Of course, the Bucs are still thrilled with last year's signing, as Bryant put together a strong 2005 season, making 80% of his field goal tries. However, Bryant could become a free agent if not re-signed by March 3, and Cundiff could provide another proven option at the position.
The 25-year-old Cundiff has appeared in 53 NFL games, all of them for Dallas, and made 60 of his 82 career field goal attempts (73.2%). He has also connected on 100 of 101 extra point attempts and made four field goals of over 50 yards. In his most productive season for the Cowboys, 2003, Cundiff scored 99 points on 23-of-29 field goal kicking and 30-of-31 PAT work.
Cundiff had one particularly memorable afternoon during that fine 2003 season, helping the Cowboys beat the New York Giants on September 15. In the game, he tied an NFL record by making seven field goals, including a 52-yarder, then his career long, on the final play of regulation, sending the game into overtime. In the extra period, Cundiff hit his seventh three-pointer, a 25-yard shot, to win the game and finish with 23 points.
The 6-1, 218-pound Cundiff first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Drake in 2002. Despite those modest roots, he won the Cowboys' kicking job in his rookie training camp and went on to make 12 of 19 field goal tries. After his strong 2003 season, Dallas re-signed Cundiff, who had become an exclusive rights free agent, and he followed with a 20-of-26 season on field goal tries in 2004.
Cundiff might have held the job into the start of 2005, too, had he not suffered a right quad injury during practice in the summer. That eventually led to an injury settlement with the Cowboys on August 29. However, he recovered from the injury and the Cowboys brought him back after releasing his replacement Jose Cortez.
Cundiff re-signed with Dallas on November 19 and one day later, in a win over Detroit, he kicked a team-record 56-yard field goal just before halftime. He kicked in the next five games and made a total of five field goals in eight attempts over his six-game return, but was released again on December 27, days before the Cowboys' season finale.
Cundiff's long-distance prowess was evident during his college days, when he made eight field goals of 50 or more yards for Drake, including a 62-yarder that stands as the second-longest in NCAA history. He finished his collegiate career with 15 school and seven conference records. A native of Harlan, Iowa, Cundiff was heavily involved with charitable activities while with the Cowboys.
The Bucs have now signed three kickers since the end of the 2005 season, though Cundiff is the only one with a significant amount of NFL experience. Younger kickers Xavier Beitia and Mike Shafer are still attempting to earn their first regular-season jobs and will put their talents on display in the NFL Europe League this spring.