All offseason I've been assuming that two injured players, running back Lance Dunbar and tight end Gavin Escobar, would not be ready for the Week One roster. I imagined they would be on the Physically Unable to Perform list early in the year as they continued to work their way back.
However, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones has just given us some new information.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Jones said that both Dunbar and Escobar were having fast recoveries and the team is optimistic that they will be ready for the start of the regular season. This is great news for the players especially; both are in contract years.
Lance Dunbar suffered a major knee injury in Week 4, tearing both his ACL and MCL. Before he went down, Dunbar was emerging as a breakout weapon in the Cowboys offense. He led the team in catches up to his injury.
As for Gavin Escobar, his year ended with a torn Achilles in Week 15. It would especially remarkable for him to make such a quick comeback; just over eight months between the injury and the start of the 2016 season.
The tricky issue with this is that the players can't be put on the PUP List if they report to practice anytime during training camp or preseason. Dallas may want to preserve that option so that they can ease the players back in while keeping rosters spots open.
Because both Dunbar and Escobar are in contract years the Cowboys are in a tough spot between managing their status and thinking about the future. How willing are you to discard prospects at their positions for guys who don't project in your long-term plans?
I would argue that neither player is going to be in Dallas next season. Dunbar has had chronic injury issues and will see his touches reduced now that Ezekiel Elliott has arrived. Escobar, a former second-round pick, has shown no signs of being a future starter. Plus, Dallas just gave James Hanna a three-year deal that pays him like the number-two tight end.
Because they will both miss most, if not all, of training camp then younger players will get chances to emerge. Dallas may not be willing to cut sixth-round rookies Darius Jackson (RB) or Rico Gathers (TE) to make room for the veterans. Dunbar and Escobar might be better in 2016, but cutting those drafted rookies means losing their four-year contracts.
That's why keeping Dunbar and Escobar on the PUP list would be ideal. It leaves more time for things to happen during the season that could create more need. By Week 7, when the PUP list guys are first eligible to return, you could've had other injuries or performance issues that make an opening.
It just goes to show how little margin there is between being a significant, useful player and losing your job. Dunbar was emerging as the Cowboys' own Darren Sproles and now he may not have a role. Escobar was supposed to the eventual heir to Jason Witten and now he's just hoping that Gathers and Geoff Swaim don't play him off the team.