The Dallas Cowboys have dealt with their fair share of surprises over the last several years. While every NFL team builds contingency plans into their roster each season, the Cowboys' recent string of unexpected events and even occasional chaos could impact their decision-making as they head into their 2021 training camp.
Sure, every team deals with injuries, suspensions, and other issues. But while we may have a higher awareness of Dallas' issues due to following the team, there's no denying that the Cowboys have had a greater share of season-changing issues than some of their NFL brethren.
The quarterback position alone has provided plenty of drama since 2015. Losing Tony Romo to major injuries derailed that season and could've easily done the same in 2016 if not for an amazing rookie named Dak Prescott.
Last year, while it was one of several major injuries for the Cowboys, Prescott's loss was the uppercut in the series of punches that the team endured in 2020. Dallas had done their due diligence by signing Andy Dalton as a veteran backup but never could've prepared for losing nearly the entire starting offensive line on top of it.
Or how about what the team endured in 2017 with Ezekiel Elliott's weekly legal battles and ultimate six-game suspension? One of the favorites in the NFC after a brilliant 13-3 campaign the year before, Dallas' offense never seemed to find rhythm as the constant distraction of Zeke's availability hung over the team.
It also didn't help that veterans Dez Bryant and Jason Witten both saw severe drops in their on-field effectiveness as they started barreling down the other side of the hill. Nobody would've guessed Cole Beasley would be our best receiving target in 2017 but there was no denying it by the end of the year.
Speaking of Witten, who'd have guessed we'd see him on the field again after his 2018 retirement? While a return to the Cowboys as a coach was always considered, Jason surprisingly un-retired in 2019 and to questionable results.
In that year during Witten's ill-fated run on Monday Night Football, Dallas threw their own curveball when they traded for WR Amari Cooper during the middle of 2018. Thankfully, not all surprises are bad ones. Cooper's arrival sparked the Cowboys making the playoffs despite their 3-5 start to the season.
Again, much of this is just life in the NFL. But it feels like the Dallas Cowboys have had more than their fair share of major issues with their most-important players in recent history.
As they head into 2021, and especially after last season, the Cowboys have ample reason to prepare for even the more unlikely of scenarios. 2020 was the year just about everything which could go wrong did and we could see the effects in how Dallas molds this year's roster.
Just look at what's happened at WR the last few years. In just a few years we've gone from the troubles of 2017 to having Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb leading a now-loaded receiving corps. You can clearly see how some of that past pain had affected recent decision making.
After all that Dallas has endured at quarterback since 2015, it's a bit surprising they didn't replace Dalton with a more experienced backup option. How much patience will they have with Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci, or Cooper Rush if none of these guys quickly impress in camp? Could we see the Cowboys quickly attempt to trade for or sign another QB?
There's only so much any team can prepare for. There simply aren't enough roster spots or great options to fill them with. Some blows can't be recovered from until the next offseason or until someone gets off injured reserve.
But within these general absolutes is a wide range of behavior; degrees of caution or being flippant with the potential pitfalls of an NFL season. Those attitudes can drive choices about who you keep and cut as that 53-man roster is formed.
The 2021 Dallas Cowboys have no reason to take anything for granted. While they may not always have a great solution to certain problems, they at least should have full awareness of how sideways things can quickly go. They've had ample reminders the last few years to expect the unexpected and we'll see how that affects their roster-building in the coming months.