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Cowboy up

Vanderjagt signs three-year contract with Dallas

Posted: Thursday March 23, 2006 9:40AM; Updated: Thursday March 23, 2006 10:13PM
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Mike Vanderjagt
Mike Vanderjagt's miss at the end of the divisional playoff game against the Steelers sealed his fate in Indianapolis.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Mike Vanderjagt, the NFL's most accurate kicker who was no longer needed in Indianapolis, signed a three-year contract Thursday with the Dallas Cowboys.

Vanderjagt wasn't re-signed by the Colts, who instead signed Adam Vinatieri earlier this week. Vinatieri twice hit winning kicks in the Super Bowl for New England, but the Patriots allowed him to test free agency.

After depending so long on inexperienced or inexpensive kickers, the Cowboys didn't pass on Vanderjagt, a former Pro Bowl kicker and unrestricted free agent. A story posted on the Cowboys Web site reported that the deal was worth $5.4 million, including a $2.5 million signing bonus. Phone messages and an e-mail to the kicker's agent, Gil Scott, weren't returned.

Vanderjagt has the highest field goal accuracy rate in NFL history (217-of-245 kicks, 87.5 percent) and holds the record for making 42 straight. But on his last attempt for the Colts during the AFC divisional playoffs in January, he badly missed a 46-yarder that would have forced overtime against Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.

"Everyone kind of had it a foregone conclusion that Mike wouldn't be back, but you don't just get rid of guys without being able to replace them," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We were fortunate that we were able to replace him with a great, great kicker."

Indianapolis gave Vinatieri a five-year, $12 million deal with a $3.5 million signing bonus.

The Cowboys used three kickers last season, and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Dallas lost twice by three points and had a one-point loss, and the kickers were a combined 20-of-28 on field goals with four misses under 40 yards.

Billy Cundiff was the Cowboys' primary kicker the past four seasons, making 60 of 82 field goals (73 percent) in 53 games. He was released after hurting his leg in training camp but returned in November for six games after Jose Cortez and Shaun Suisham kicked.

But Cundiff was inconsistent, making a team-record 56-yarder against Detroit in his first game back, then missing a 34-yard tiebreaking kick in the fourth quarter four days later against Denver, the Thanksgiving Day game the Cowboys lost in overtime. Cundiff was 5-for-8 and cut before the final game, and Suisham returned for the season finale.

In 2003, Cundiff tied an NFL record with seven field goals in a Monday night victory at the New York Giants.

Since Rafael Septien set most of the team's kicking records from 1978-86, there has been a long line of kickers through Dallas, including Richie Cunningham, Chris Boniol, Eddie Murray and high school teacher Tim Seder, among others. Cundiff was the only one who stayed more than three seasons.

Vanderjagt, who turns 36 Friday, spent his first eight NFL seasons with the Colts after playing in the Canadian Football League (1993, 1996-97) and a season in the Arena Football League. He scored a franchise-record 995 points in Indianapolis, where all his home games were played in a domed stadium.

"Mike was tremendous for us in the time that I was here," said Dungy, who just finished his fourth season in Indianapolis. "He made some kicks that won divisions for us, that won big games, overtime games, and I never thought that he was going to miss when we sent him out."

In 2003, Vanderjagt made all 37 of his field-goal attempts and all 46 extra points. He was 23-of-25 on field goals last season, his long kick being 48 yards.

Vanderjagt's career long field goal is 54 yards, and he's made 14 of 21 kicks from at least 50 yards. He has converted 344 of 346 extra points and scored at least 100 points every season. The last Cowboys kicker with 100 points was Seder with 108 in 2000.

Still, Vanderjagt had another big miss in December 2000 against Miami, when he was wide right on a 49-yard attempt in overtime that would have sent the Colts into the second round of the playoffs. He had field goals of 32, 26 and 50 yards in that game, which the Dolphins won 23-17.

Also Thursday, Dallas signed L.P. LaDouceur, a second-year defensive end who played in 13 games on special teams for the Cowboys last season.

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