Stop the Insanity! Starting QBs Should not be Holding Kicks

Dallas Cowboys, Greg Smith, Ramblings and Rants

When you Google “Holding for Field Goals”, two Youtube links appear.  The first is a four-minute instructional video, entitled “How to Hold for Field Goals and Extra Points”, a decent little tutorial by former NFL punter/holder Filip Filipović.

The other?

“Tony Romo Singlehandedly Loses the Game for Dallas”.

It’s one of my favorite moments in NFL history.  Not only because I’m an Eagles fan, but because Romo’s blunder proves a theory of mine.  I disagree entirely with the concept of an NFL team’s starting quarterback doubling as its holder.

Tony Romo after botched hold (AP)

On the surface, the two jobs are very different.  The QB is the highest paid player on the roster, the holder doesn’t have his own roster spot.  The QB receives all things glorious, the holder is the only position not represented at the Pro Bowl.  The QB is the face of the franchise, the holder is the kicker’s lackey.

But my argument isn’t about glamour or ego.  And it’s certainly not that the starting quarterback lacks the coordination to hold, or that he’s too good for it.  What I would argue is that, at the moment a placed kick needs to be held, the starting quarterback is perhaps the least prepared, least qualified player on the team to do the job.  Here’s three reasons why:

1)      During the week, he has less time at practice, than say, the punter or third string quarterback, who can spend hours with the long snapper and kicker.

2)      During the game, he has an untold number of things to keep straight.  Who is blitzing?  How can we adjust our game plan?  How can I get my prima donna receiver involved so he doesn’t quit on me?  What didn’t work on that last drive?

3)      During the few seconds after a touchdown is scored or before a field goal attempt, it’s the end of a drive that’s taxed the quarterback.  He’s mentally and physically exhausted.  Not the best moment to have him perform a task that’s all about focus.

I understand that for a high school or college team, the starting QB is sometimes the only man for the job.  But on an NFL team, with a 53-man roster full of elite athletes, there are plenty of potential holders.  Some players might consider it a menial task, but it’s a vital one.  A bad hold can cost the team points, or as we saw with Romo, the game that ends their season.

I’m an ex-quarterback, who played in college and dabbled in the Arena League.  I also held for kicks.  My adrenaline would be pumping after a scoring drive, and I’d have to settle down to hold.  This was easier said than done.  One time, I was so fired up I actually forgot to stay on the field for the extra point and we had to burn a time out.

Tony Romo dejected after loss to Seahawks (AP)

Romo owns the most infamous hold in league history… it cost the Cowboys a chip shot field goal that would have ended the Seahawks season and extended Bill Parcells’ coaching career another week.

But I didn’t blame Romo.  I blamed Parcells.  Romo never should have been in that situation.  Doesn’t an NFL starter have enough to worry about?  If quarterbacking is the toughest job in sports, why put more on his plate?

Parcells’ answer would probably be that Romo was the holder BEFORE he became the starting quarterback, so why make the change?  My argument would be that as soon as Romo became the starter, he should have been relieved of his holding duties so he could focus exclusively on playing quarterback.

If another team had been in the Cowboys’ situation that day, the punter or backup quarterback would have trotted onto the field to hold, and Dallas would have won the game.  No one would have given credit to the punter, who held the ball, or to the kicker who punched the 19-yarder through the uprights.  Credit would have gone to that team’s quarterback for leading the game-winning drive…The kind of thing an NFL quarterback should be remembered for.

I saw Ron Jaworski in the hallway of NFL Films yesterday and asked him if he agreed with the starting quarterback holding for kicks.  He said, “Sure do.  I did it for 15 years and loved it.”  So perhaps I’m alone on this.  A month ago, an injury to Dallas’ punter Mat McBriar propelled Romo back into the role of the Cowboys’ holder.  Now, McBriar’s returned but Romo’s still holding.  And I can’t imagine why.  Certainly Dallas has other players capable of holding, guys who aren’t haunted by the demons of botching a crucial hold every time they kneel and face the business end of a long snapper.   I mean, they’re America’s Team.  And if they can’t find someone on the roster, maybe Jerry Jones can import the answer by tracking down Filip Filipović.

Editor’s Note:  Greg Smith provides his X and O analysis to productions that include NFL Turning Point, NFL Network Playbook and NFL.com’s Anatomy of a Play Series. 

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