The news that Greg Zuerlein was placed on the COVID-19 list this week came as a shock and the “next man up” for the Cowboys wasn’t on the roster. In fact, Dallas didn’t have a placekicker on the roster or the practice squad.
On Wednesday, the Cowboys held a workout for a couple of familiar faces —Lirim Hajrullahu and Brett Maher. Hajrullahu was with the team briefly in the preseason while Maher spent two seasons in Dallas.
For the time being, Hajrullahu has been added to the practice squad pending the need to activate him to the regular roster. Hajrullahu first worked out for the Cowboys during the preseason but did not kick during a game.
Hajrullahu was originally brought in to challenge Hunter Niswander for the backup position. Niswander, a punter, was filling in at placekicker while Zuerlein recuperated from off-season back surgery. Niswander had struggled in preseason games but finished succeeding on four of six attempts.
Hajrullahu never got an on-field opportunity to show off his skills. He was brought in on Aug. 19 and released six days later. On September 13, Hajrullahu was signed to the practice squad only to be released on September 21.
Maher was initially a member of the Cowboys practice squad back in 2013, then spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons as the starting kicker in Dallas. He holds the franchise record for the longest field goal at 63 yards, but serious accuracy issues on mid-range kicks led to his release from the team late in the 2019 season.
Hajrullahu immigrated to Canada from his native Kosovo as a child. He began playing football in high school, starting at defensive back and linebacker before taking up kicking. His soccer skills contributed to his ability to kick in football, and he received numerous scholarship offers from across Canada.
Hajrullahu spent several seasons playing in the Canadian Football League and kicked the game-winning field goal in the 105th Grey Cup. He has spent time on practice squads with the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams but has yet to make an active roster at the NFL level.
Between 2014 and 2019, Hajrullahu kicked 239 field goals on 287 attempts and hit nearly 92% of his extra points. He also handled punting duties while a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Toronto Argonauts, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Zuerlein’s status is in doubt for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. The team placed the kicker on the COVID-19 list on Tuesday but has not released any further information.
If Zuerlein, who is vaccinated, does not test positive for COVID-19 before the game, it’s possible he could play on Sunday, however, the signing of Hajrullahu is an indication that such a scenario is unlikely.
Should Hajrullahu get his first NFL opportunity on Sunday, a successful performance could jump-start his career while helping the Cowboys solve one of the most challenging injuries of the season.