"Contract year." Two words that every fan has a love/hate relationship with. Players almost always play significantly better in a contract year than in non-contract years, which can really help a team go an extra round in the playoffs or even win a championship. The hate aspect comes in if the player leaves the team, or signs such a large contract that it hamstrings the team's future. Regardless, it is always interesting to watch players that are entering the final year of their contract. There are a number of Dallas players auditioning for that coveted long term deal, but one is vital to the Cowboys' success more than any other.
Looking at the picture in this article, you probably didn't recognize the player. And that's a great thing. Not because I'm a fan that wants the Cowboys to be less flashy and visible, but he's the one player on the field that never wants his name called. He is doing his job if he flies under the radar.
His name is L.P. Ladouceur, and he doesn't want you to know him because he is the Cowboys' long snapper. A long snapper only gets mentioned during the slow motion replay of a bad snap—usually to the holder for a late-game field goal. You'll never hear Al Michaels say, "...and Ladouceur with a PERFECT SNAP! And the field goal is good! Ladouceur wins another close game for Dallas."
Long snapper isn't a sexy position, and not even the most hardcore fantasy leagues include them in their rosters. But it is a top 10 crucial position if you want to win in this league. As important as having an accurate kicker is for late-game field goals, it doesn't matter if he's Adam Vinatieri if the snapper isn't able to get the ball snapped at the perfect place and time.
Snap placement is also essential to having a great punting game. In certain situations the ball needs to be placed on the thigh of the punter, and in others out to the side so the punter can step into the punt. The Cowboys need every advantage in the punting game after letting Mat McBriar go to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. If you don't punt well, you can't rely on your all-world defense (if you have one) to keep your lead late in the fourth quarter. If you aren't consistently able to kick field goals, you will lose at least one game per year.
The scary thing is that one man is crucial to both operations. He has one job, and he does it amazingly well. Look at previous games all the way back to 2005 and find a bad snap. One. I couldn't. He is rarely less than perfect, and Dallas needs to lock him down for the long term before he even sniffs the open market.
A player like this will command a lot of attention, and it should not be hard to get this done. He's definitely underpaid for his position. Ladouceur will obviously want top-of-market money next year—but he has proved that he is worth it.
Tony Romo's performance and lack of interceptions will be important for this season's success. Rob Ryan's defense will help keep some of the pressure off of Romo, too. But after those two units do their job, and the game is close late in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys cross the 50-yard line, there is no one you want on your side more than L.P. Ladouceur. Whether you recognize his face or not.