Alternate history is a fun genre. Many authors have taken deep dives into crucial points in history to speculate what would've happened if certain events had had different outcomes. There are a lot of different writings discussing this type of scenarios ranging from topics like war to pop culture and much more. But some of the most fun what ifs are in sports. Most sports fans carry intense memories from various events throughout their lifetime. They grow up around sports, after all. And it's so easy to find yourself in deep conversations with family and friends with a few "what if?" questions about sports.
In this specific article, we'll be discussing recent events for the Dallas Cowboys that make us wonder what could've been.
Note: This is meant to be a fun, light read. If you disagree with my speculations, make sure to let me know in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and I'm sure we can have a fun discussion. Let's dive in!
What if Ezekiel Elliott wasn't suspended in 2017?
With the recent news of Elliott not being suspended by the NFL, I couldn't help but wonder, what if we had gotten similar news in 2017? At the time, the Cowboys were 5-3 and were coming off from an outstanding 2016 in which Dak Prescott and Zeke took the league by storm. After months of fighting it, the suspension finally took place. During the six games Elliott was away, the Cowboys went 3-3 and ended up missing the postseason with a 9-7 record. It's fair to mention that Tyron Smith's absence at LT caused a huge impact at this point of the season as well.
With Elliott on the field, who is the centerpiece of the Cowboys offense, it's fair to assume that at least the team would've gotten another win. A 10-6 record might've been enough to get the Cowboys to postseason as a wildcard team. That's the number of wins that got the Atlanta Falcons to January.
If that would've been the case, right now we'd be talking about Jason Garrett's Cowboys making the postseason in three straight years (and four out of five since 2014). Would Garrett still be on a contract year? I do not believe so.
Not to mention, QB Dak Prescott would've made the playoffs in three out of his first three seasons in the NFL. While we await his imminent contract extension, I wonder if we'd be talking about way more money for the Cowboys' franchise signal-caller.
What if Mason Crosby missed that field goal?
Yikes. It hurts just to remember this game. In January 2017, the Cowboys and Packers went head to head in the NFC Divisional Round. At one point, Aaron Rodgers and company led the match 21-3. The Cowboys, in a remarkable effort to back up their #1 seed title, tied the game at 28-28 with 4:08 remaining. A couple of drives later, the game was tied at 31 apiece.
Moments later, Rodgers would make an impressive (and painful) throw to Jared Cook to set up a Mason Crosby 51-yard FG attempt. The Packers went on to the NFC Championship game, the Cowboys didn't.
Due to the two heartbreaking losses Cowboys fans have had to experience against the Packers, there's a debate among the fanbase regarding which year would've been "the year" if the team had gotten past Green Bay. 2014 or 2016?
I lean toward 2014. The 2016 Cowboys were talented but I'm not sure they would've been able to hold off the explosive Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. Their offense was unbelievable that year and I truly think the Cowboys defense wouldn't have been able to hold them. Plus, there's a reason why no rookie QB has ever won the Super Bowl.
Even still, making the NFC Championship Game would've been better than being one-and-done after a 13-3 campaign.
What if Tony Romo never got hurt in the 2016 preseason?
This would've truly changed things. What if Romo wasn't hurt in 2016? What if Prescott never had to come in and prove himself since day 1? Think about it, Ezekiel Elliott was drafted with the fourth overall pick to try to bring that 2014 running game back to Dallas and help Romo during his final years on the field.
It's hard to believe the team would've find a similar swagger and energy that a young combo of Dak and Zeke brought to the Cowboys, but Romo could've really taken advantage of such a complete team. I'm convinced Dallas would've still made the playoffs. But the impact would've gone beyond 2016.
Would Dak ever gotten a chance to shock the nation as he did as a rookie? Or would he still be on the sidelines? Sure, he looked great in the preseason and could've raised some eyebrows, but it likely wouldn't have been the same. Even if Romo retired afterwards, who knows what direction the front office would've taken. They probably wouldn't have turned to their (second) fourth round selection from 2016 that was the third-string QB before Kellen Moore got injured in camp.
What if the Cowboys hadn’t traded for Amari Cooper?
Last season was saved by Cooper. When he got to Dallas, the offense got the spark it so desperately needed. The unit began picking drastically more first downs and finally had a legitimate threat in the passing game. Cooper's arrival resulted in an improved version of Dak Prescott and more playing time for rookie Michael Gallup.
We're talking about a trade that literally got the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2018. So what if he was still in Oakland or in any other team?
The Cowboys would've failed in reaching the postseason for the second consecutive year. Would Jason Garrett still be in Dallas? If going 10-6 and getting a playoff win versus the Seattle Seahawks didn't result in a contract extension for him, it's a strong possibility that he wouldn't be the team's HC if the team didn't turn things around last year.
Prescott would be in a tougher position to negotiate a contract extension and many more would question his skills as a QB. Specially with a potential HC change, the front office might've taken a different approach in dealing with the negotiations with Dak. After all, many times a new coach results in a new QB. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals.
What are some "what ifs" in recent Cowboys history that make you wonder what could've been? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter and let's talk football alternate history!
Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?
Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.
Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.
Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.
There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?
Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.
Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.
In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.
What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?
Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable
Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.
The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.
Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).
Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.
Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.
The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.
CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season
For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.
In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.
After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.
Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.
"As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."
Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.
Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.
"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."
The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.
Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.
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