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Tony Romo Injury: The Ripple Effect

Jess Haynie

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Tony Romo

Cowboys Headlines - Possible Waiver Wire Quarterbacks For Dallas CowboysWe all know by now that Tony Romo suffered a lower back fracture in Thursday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks. We also know that he won't be the Cowboys starting quarterback to begin the 2016 season.

What remains unknown is exactly how long Romo will be out. I've heard a timetable of 4-6 weeks but also one of 6-10 weeks. At this point, nobody is saying that Romo's done for the season.

Give that it's still two weeks until Dallas' first regular season game, that means Romo could come back far sooner into the year than perhaps was originally being discussed. Even the Cowboys third game is still on the table, though that would be the most optimistic projection.

Let's take a look at how Romo's status, and the wide range of possibilities, will impact the Cowboys' roster decisions as the NFL cut-down deadlines are just days away.

QB Depth Chart

After his first two brilliant preseason games, Dak Prescott seemed to have closed the discussion about the backup quarterback. Now Prescott will be Dallas' starter during Romo's recovery, bringing the rest of the depth chart back into question.

Cowboys Headlines - The Dak Prescott Hype: Why It's Completely Okay To Buy In 1My projection had been that Dallas would keep just Romo and Prescott on the roster and put Jameil Showers back on the practice squad. They had their backup and developmental player in a single roster spot with Prescott. However, now they will have to reassess.

There are two ways to look at Showers and having him be Dak's backup. On the one hand, you might want a veteran now. If Prescott gets injured or struggles against regular season competition, an experienced quarterback might be preferable to another young project player.

Showers hasn't looked great in the preseason, but he's also had the misfortune of playing with the least talent around him. What would he look like behind first-team offensive linemen and throwing to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten?

Another factor to consider is playing styles. Prescott and Showers are both mobile, athletic players. If the offense gets used to Prescott's style and plays are developed to take advantage of his running, could that give Showers more value? He might be able to bring a continuity factor as a backup that an older, slower pocket passer could not.

Romo's Return

Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys 2016 Super Bowl Run Starts With Tony Romo 3

Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News

There is still the possibility that Tony Romo could be put on injured reserve with the option of being re-activated in the middle of the season. However, that would remove the option of an early return.

Let's say things go beautifully and Romo can play after four weeks from the injury. That means he could come back for the Cowboys' Week 3 game. This is highly idealistic, but do you really want to take it off the table?

More than likely, Romo will be carried on the 53-man roster and left inactive while he heals up. That preserves the team's options and maximizes flexibility in handling the position throughout the season.

Roster Math

If you look at my last 53-man roster projection then you'll see where I had Dallas going long at a few positions. One of those roster spots will be gone now with the changes at quarterback.

Where will the spot come from? Here are the most likely options:

  • Cowboys Headlines - Lance Dunbar Officially Cleared To Return To PracticeRunning Back - How badly do you really need Lance Dunbar? Given his own history, how much do you even trust him to stay healthy? Dallas could elect to cut Dunbar along with Darren McFadden and just keep Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darius Jackson. They also could decide to risk Jackson on the practice squad if they'd rather hang on to one of the veterans.
  • Tight End - I had Dallas keeping five tight ends on the last roster projection. One of those was Rico Gathers, who made the team only as a developmental player to protect him from the practice squad. Dallas may now have to take that risk. Alternatively, they could be forced to make a decision between Geoff Swaim and Austin Traylor if they don't want to leave Gathers vulnerable.
  • Fullback - They may not keep a FB at all, instead using a tight end when they need someone to run block out of the backfield. They will likely be trying out Swaim and Traylor in that role during practice to see if that becomes an option.
  • Linebacker - I had the Cowboys keeping seven but they could just go with six; three starters and three backups. This is especially possible if Keith Smith, now at fullback after being converted from linebacker, is still around for emergency depth. Believe it or not, I think it could be Justin Durant who loses out in this scenario. Turning 31 next month, Durant has been showing his age so far since returning to Dallas and may not be the player they'd hoped for.

It's hard to say which of these is the most likely. Only the Cowboys know how much they value the individual players who would be impacted.

No matter where it comes from, though, it appears somebody is going to lose their job thanks to Romo's injury.

Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Breakout Candidates: Brice Butler 1Changing Roles

Even for guys who were going to make the team in any scenario, their roles and playing time could be impacted. This was discussed in detail by fellow staff writer RJ Ochoa earlier today, who showed how Brice Butler's value may have just increased in a Dak Prescott-led offense.

A move from Romo to Prescott also puts even more emphasis on the Cowboys running game and the importance of the offensive line. It could have just taken Ronald Leary off the trade block; does Dallas really want to risk not having him now?

~ ~ ~

The immediate response to Tony Romo's injury was probably more extreme than the reality of the consequences. He may not be out as long as we first thought, though you do have to wonder what sort of player he'll be upon return.

It's important to remember that Romo's been here before. He played all of 2014 with two small back fractures and still led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record, division title, and playoff win. We may be overrating how much this changes our season.

One thing is clear; we have Dak Prescott now and way more hope as a result. If Dak's preseason play is any indication of what he'll do in September, then the big question may not be about when Romo comes back or how he'll play when he does.

At that point, we may be asking if Romo will ever get his job back at all.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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2 Comments
  • https://www.facebook.com/app_scoped_user_id/759713857/ John Angell

    I don’s see Dunbar making the roster given his injury history and our backfield. I’d much rather see what Action Jackson can do as a KR and 3rd RB than keep the brittle Dunbar. Also, it would be pretty shocking if Geoff Swaim didn’t make the roster. Minus game 1 with the dropsies, he’s been very solid. Haven’t seen much to do with his pass protection, but the few times I’ve noticed it he’s been solid. There’s a pretty good chance Gathers won’t make the practice squad though, and he has potential. Couple of good conundrums.

    • http://www.PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      You and I are thinking the same way in Dunbar. Right now I’d probably bet on him being the big loser in the Romo injury.

      Good points on Swaim, too. If they like his blocking enough then they probably don’t have to keep Traylor.

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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