As every member of the NFL media and fan army will agree, we really need to do something about the NFL preseason. Tradition sometimes makes sense, but the idea of making NFL teams play 4-5 preseason games every year serves no purpose whatsoever - beyond extracting cash from the fans. And that used to be really important when extracting ticket money was the primary means of income. But, then, the NFL figured out that there were literally dozens of ways to find your money beyond making you pay for scrimmages in August. I suppose, like any organization that has all of the money, that doesn't make them interested in discontinuing any old ones that still yield green.
Regardless, they survived it. Sort of. Four games played and the Cowboys got through them. The toll this year was a substantial injury to their QB1, so aside from Minnesota, it is possible that nobody paid a higher price. And while Teddy Bridgewater's injury did not happen in a preseason game - demonstrating that injuries can happen anywhere - Tony Romo's injury only happens in a full contact, full speed scenario that just occurs during the normal 2-3 dozen preseason snaps a QB plays.
Looking back at last night's loss to Houston, there really isn't much with regard to lead stories. The Cowboys scratched so many players that really the best discussions are for the final 12-15 roster spots which illuminate a few items of interest that I wanted to cover this morning. So, at the risk of jumping around, let me tackle those right here:
- I am not cutting RB Darius Jackson. I recognize that there are tough decisions to make and that Darren McFadden is far more famous and accomplished than the 6th round pick from Eastern Michigan, but Jackson looks too impressive in too many ways for me to make him available to the rest of the league. A player like Jackson is exactly what a roster like this always needs. If you are going to pay their top players what they do, then they need good labor at affordable prices: The Cowboys are one of a very small group that have written 5 contracts over $50m and 10 contracts over $20m. By comparison, New England has 1 contract over $50m and 5 over $20m. NFC Champion Carolina has 2 contracts over $50m and 6 over $20m. So, the Cowboys have a top-heavy payroll, and the only way to make this work is to find a lot of players on Day 2-3 of the draft that you can get 4 years for about $2.5m total.
Darius Jackson is that. Anthony Brown is that. Kevon Frazier is that. These players and Rico Gathers are all in that group of 6th round picks from last April that team snagged roughly a couple hundred picks into the draft. That is where you find guys who can fill holes for cheap to bridge the gap. Now, finding cheap labor is easy. Finding competitive cheap labor is not. That is where this 2016 draft may have really hit on something.
As for the running back situation, Jackson can do quite a few things for you. He can cover kicks, he can return kicks, he can run the ball inside or outside, and he has juice around the corner. There is no chance I would let him off the roster in exchange for a veteran (Darren McFadden) who is both near the end of his career and would make more money this year than Jackson would in his first three years. I think Jackson is the play here. I am curious whether the Cowboys agree.
- It has not been a great preseason for people I have featured as dark horse candidates to affect the roster. Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece on David Irving, another on Jameill Showers, and another on Shaneil Jenkins. I called Irving a breakout guy, Showers a real candidate for the #2 QB job, and Jenkins a guy you have to keep on the roster. Well, Showers is not going to make it, it would appear. I liked his tools, but he has proven to be further away than the rookie they just grabbed in Dak Prescott. After a year in the system, I assume that is as far as this project goes. He just couldn't get his practice work to translate to these games. It is always going to be a tough process for a guy who has to play with non-roster players, but you have to try to figure it out to make a splash. He seems to hold the ball too long and not quite process the play quick enough for this level.
Meanwhile, Jenkins was hurt in the preseason game against Miami, and the Cowboys are going to IR him and put him on ice until 2017. You have not heard the last of him, I think, but it won't be this season. As for Irving, we saw some more signs yesterday. I am a bit concerned with his lack of variety in his moves, but I still like him to really make an impact in 2016. Don't forget how young he is and of course, don't forget how much opportunity awaits him. I think he has easily passed Ryan Russell on the DE depth chart and might get 30-40 snaps in Week 1.
I think Irving and Brice Butler show the value of end-of-roster trades and player movement in September each year. It has nowhere near the glamour of the draft, but they clearly found superior players to their own draft picks. The problem is that they have to trade picks to make these trades happen. For Butler, they traded their 5th for Butler and a 6th. Irving was signed for free off the Kansas City practice squad.
- JJ Wilcox may be in trouble. Devin Street is definitely in trouble. Gavin Escobar might be safe, but barely. And this is massively disappointing. Escobar was pick #47 and Wilcox was pick #80 in the 2013 draft. In fact, that draft which now has players entering their contract years, appears likely that by next spring will only have Travis Frederick as a remainder. 2013's entire draft will be gone but for Frederick. Those players are only 25 years of age right now. They should be in their primes and the Cowboys had four picks in the top 80 selections! This is very bad. 2011's draft only has one name left (Tyron), and 2012 has four: Mo Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, and James Hanna. But, 2014 now looks like Devin Street is on his way out which will only leave three players left - Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Anthony Hitchens. So, all of the Day 3 cheap labor from 2014 has already been dismissed if Street goes on to the street tomorrow.
- Rico Gathers and his 6'8, 275-pound frame will be all the rage today after this catch and run. He is a very athletic man and now after this catch - just one play, but the type of play that gets notice - if you want to keep him around, you may need to give him a spot on the 53. More than a few people have said that sneaking him through to the practice squad may not be possible now. I have no idea if that is over-reaction, but there is no doubt the kid has some interesting tools that make people squint and wonder about the basketball-to-tight end project that we have seen so much in the NFL. He had been hid all preseason and I thought that was to sneak him through to the practice squad. But, they put him out in the 4th Quarter and he did that. Who knows?
We will starting getting the cuts today and tomorrow morning. And from there, they take the new team picture and preparations begin for the Giants. Late July seems like a while back, but this journey has only just begun.