We 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.
My 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.
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.
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:
- Running 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.
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.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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