Let's flashback for a moment.
The date is August 19th, 2016 and the Dallas Cowboys are about to play their preseason home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Tony Romo is the starting quarterback and he is playing in his first live game action since Thanksgiving Day of 2015.
In just two series, Romo completes 4 of his 5 passes for 49 yards and has a passer rating of 107.5. On his second drive, he leads the Cowboys down the field with ease, and Alfred Morris caps off the series with a touchdown. Romo looks efficient, and the Cowboys offense looks like an absolute machine.
Since then, a lot has changed.
Now at 13-2 behind a Dak Prescott-led offense, the Cowboys have everything in the NFC locked up going into their season finale. Since his performance against Miami, Romo has barely gotten any action, and he has yet to play in the regular season.
With just the season finale in Philadelphia to go, the debate over whether Romo should be given a chance to "knock off the rust" this week is in full swing. Many believe that Tony needs to see the field this week, in order to be ready just in case of a Prescott injury in the playoffs. Others believe that there is nothing to gain from playing Romo in this meaningless finale, and the possibility of him suffering another injury far outweighs any perceived benefits.
Personally, I tend to agree with the latter argument.
What will two series really mean?
ESPN reported that Romo is likely to play "some" of the game against the Eagles this Sunday. What "some" means is to be determined, but I have seen it suggested by DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus that it could be as little as two series.
So, once again, I ask: what the hell is two series going to mean two weeks from now?
Romo went months without getting any action, started the second preseason game, and looked exactly like his old self. Of course, the difference between the Miami Dolphins preseason week two and potentially the New York Giants in the division round of the playoffs is great. But, giving Romo 5-10 passing attempts against a 9-loss Eagles' team isn't exactly a fair comparison either.
Even if Romo was to play two quarters, or maybe even a full game (which will not be the case), I still don't believe this notion of "knocking off the rust" is valid. Romo has been in this league for a long time, if he were called upon in a playoff game, I would have just as much trust in him without seeing action Sunday as I would if he plays Sunday.
There could be some personal bias in that trust, but I only think that the trust could be hurt by playing Sunday. While Romo playing well could confirm what we already think, him playing poorly could let some doubt creep into both the Cowboys and Romo.
No Tyron Smith, No Ronald Leary, But you want to play Romo?
This is the part that gets to me. A guy that in two of his last three regular season games has suffered season-threatening injuries is going to play behind two backup offensive linemen this week, with Fletcher Cox and hungry Eagles defensive linemen looking to get after him, and people don't seem to see the problem with this.
If Tyron Smith and Ronald Leary were playing, this would be a different conversation, but it doesn't seem like they are, so why put Romo in harms way like this?
To me, Romo suffering an injury which puts him out of the playoffs could be devastating. Not only to the team's Super Bowl chances, but also to their chances of successfully moving him in the offseason.
If Dak Prescott were to get injured and need to miss time in the postseason, any rational person would rather see Romo fill in than Mark Sanchez. With Romo, this team still has a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Houston. With Sanchez, there is a clear ceiling which would be reached prior to that moment.
In terms of potentially moving Romo this offseason, teams are already going to look at him as a risky pickup. He has suffered three major injuries in almost as many games and hasn't played a meaningful game since 2015, where he had a rough go of it. Adding another injury to that list will only make it tougher to find a trade partner in a few months.
You had your chance to see what Romo could do
And you didn't take that chance.
Last week, up by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you could have easily let Romo finish up the final few drives. That could have been his "knock the rust off" action. But, the Cowboys didn't insert him into the game. A move I was and am totally fine with, by the way.
Earlier in the season the Cowboys could have gotten Romo more reps as well. But they didn't. Now, with absolutely nothing to play for, they might put him behind two backup offensive linemen in Philly? It just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
What if it all goes right, though?
Of course, there is always the possibility that everything goes right. Romo plays three series, throws a touchdown pass, looks efficient, and exits healthy. We are all excited to see him play, our sentimental selves are happy, and maybe we now feel more comfortable if Tony has to play in the playoffs.
With that being said, I believe the risks of him playing poorly far outweigh any benefits that him playing well would have. We should already be confident that Romo could come in and play well, regardless of how he plays in a meaningless game against a team who isn't in the playoffs.
I like to believe there is no bigger Tony Romo fan than me (even though Staff Writer Sean Martin may disagree). I have grown up with Romo as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and I wanted nothing more than for him to be crowned as a Super Bowl Champion. As much as I love what Dak Prescott is doing, and as excited as I am for the future with Dak as the leader of America's Team, there will always be a small part of me that wishes it could have been Tony Romo leading this magical season.
But the fact of the matter is, it's not.
And if Tony Romo is going to be needed sometime in the playoffs, whether because of injury or some-other unforeseen circumstance, he will need to be healthy and available to play. In my opinion, the Cowboys gain nothing from having him out there this Sunday.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
Will Cowboys’ Performance VS NFC South Define 2018 Season?
When thinking about how the Cowboys' 2017 season came to an end the day before Christmas after a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, we often forget the team needed some extra help in order to get to the playoffs. The NFC was a tough conference to play in last year... but it will only be tougher in 2018.
The NFC is way stronger than the AFC right now, at least in terms of depth.
The Cowboys will be sharing a division with the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that only got stronger this offseason and will try to make a run for the NFC East title once again.
As good and promising as the Cowboys' roster is, it's only fair to admit that trying to get to the postseason this year might implicate running for a wildcard spot. Many teams will be fighting for a playoff berth late in the year but fortunately for Dallas, they will be able to control their destiny against a handful of this teams.
The Cowboys will play against the entire NFC South this season. Except for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, every team in the South division was fighting for a chance at January football heading into week 17.
The Saints, Falcons and Panthers all finished the season with double-digit wins last year, and there's little reason to believe they won't come back as strong as they were in 2017.
If the Cowboys are not able to beat the Eagles in the NFC East race, we'll be hearing about a lot of different playoff scenarios that will be needed in order to play in the postseason. Certainly, having the head-to-head advantage against the NFC South teams would go a long way, even if the team will play the Saints, Falcons and Panthers before December comes around.
If the Cowboys do manage to get back to their 2016-selves, no team in the league should be an "impossible" challenge for a powerful running-game based offense and a defense that can rush the passer consistently.
Of course, the NFC South is not the only challenging division in the conference. The NFC West will feature another three football teams that will be winning tons of games. The Rams, 49ers and Seahawks are all very likely to have winning records and be in the hunt once December comes around.
In a season that promises to be a "comeback" year for America's Team, the NFC promises to be a threatening conference from every direction. If the Cowboys will be able to overcome or not remains unknown and will stay that way until the season actually starts.
Cowboys en Español: 3 Escenarios Para el Futuro de David Irving
En la NFL, la falta de noticias en Junio generalmente significa buenas noticias. Los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys saben esto mejor que nadie y en caso de que lo hayan olvidado, David Irving se aseguró de recordarle a Cowboys Nation el porque de esta frase.
La semana pasada, se anunció que David Irving recibirá una suspensión de cuatro partidos por haber violado la política de abuso de substancias de la liga. Es la segunda suspensión que Irving recibe en años consecutivos y lógicamente, esto es preocupante para el equipo de los Dallas Cowboys.
Las últimas dos temporadas hemos visto a Irving convertirse en una pieza de suma importancia para la defensiva. El año pasado, Irving consiguió siete sacks (capturas) en sólo ocho juegos y se convirtió en un caza cabezas muy efectivo.
Demostrando ser uno de los jugadores más talentosos de su posición en la NFL, es difícil imaginar el futuro del #95 en la liga. Tras recibir un tender de segunda ronda hace unos meses (explico que es eso aquí), el futuro de Irving es muy incierto. Por eso, esta semana en Cowboys en Español, exploraremos tres escenarios posibles para el defensivo de 24 años.
#1 David Irving se va de Dallas prematuramente
Hace unos días, me dediqué a defender mi posición de que los Cowboys estarían cometiendo un error al cortar a David Irving. A pesar de que realmente despedirse de un defensivo como Irving parece muy poco probable, es un escenario que debemos discutir.
Irving ha sido un dolor de cabeza para el equipo en más de una ocasión. Dos suspensiones en años consecutivos no es una buena imagen para un jugador que busca un contrato jugoso al terminar el año.
Si Jason Garrett y la administración quieren "dar un mensaje" cortando a David Irving, ¿qué tanto serviría? Esta idea de enviar un mensaje, a la hora de pensarlo fríamente, parece una idea romántica de parte de nosotros los fans. Al final de cuentas, estamos hablando de un locker room lleno de jugadores adultos y profesionales, no de un grupo de niños.
Además, bien sabemos todos que Irving no es el único Cowboy que ha tenido problemas. ¿Será el hecho de que ha ocurrido dos años seguidos razón suficiente para dejarlo ir? Personalmente, no lo creo. Los Cowboys dejarían ir a un jugador muy bueno en una posición de necesidad.
Datone Jones, Jihad Ward y Maliek Collins podrán ser suficiente. Pero David Irving es especial en el campo. Mejor tenerlo por 12 juegos a tenerlo cero.
#2 Irving se queda para el 2018, pero no más allá
David Irving recibió un contrato de un año que le pagaba (antes de ser suspendido) 2.91 millones de dólares. Si hubiera demostrado que no era problemático y que podía mantenerse al 100% toda la temporada, probablemente hubiera recibido un gran contrato de los Cowboys o de otro equipo en la NFL.
Sin embargo, el dicho lo dice todo. "En la NFL, la disponibilidad es la mejor habilidad." Irving no se ha terminado de ganar la confianza necesaria para una gran extensión.
En este punto, Dallas puede esperar a que su tackle defensivo regrese de su suspensión, juegue doce juegos con ellos y les consiga un sack por juego por menos de tres millones de dólares. Después de eso, el equipo pude darse el lujo de dejarlo ir sin una extensión y verlo convertirse en un agente libre.
#3 Irving se queda por más de un año
En este caso, hay dos "sub-escenarios." Suponiendo que, efectivamente, Irving regresa y juega como sabemos que puede hacerlo, no será tan fácil dejarlo ir. Si llega a sorprender y demuestra que realmente es quien creemos que es y consigue diez capturas en sólo doce juegos, ¿realmente no le dará el equipo una oportunidad?
La primera opción sería asignarle la etiqueta franquicia y obligarlo a jugar un año más para un equipo que busca desesperadamente un Super Bowl.
Si se sienten cómodos dándole el salario de una etiqueta franquicia para evitar perderlo, ¿podríamos culparlos después de que les dio por ejemplo, diez capturas? Yo, personalmente, no podría hacerlo.
La otra opción, y una que podría ser la más realista, es más simple. La inmadurez y los problemas de Irving le costarán la confianza y el interés de otros equipos y es posible que en un punto, Dallas sea el único equipo que le pueda brindar seguridad de trabajo.
De esta manera, Dallas podría ofrecerle una extensión de dos, tres o más años a un precio mucho más barato que el de cualquier DT que consiga dos dígitos de sacks.
David Irving sin duda tiene un futuro incierto delante de él. Realmente sería una sorpresa verlo fuera de Dallas en el 2018, pero más allá, quien sabe lo que pueda pasar. Por ahora, esperemos que una vez que vuelva de la suspensión, esté en forma para ir detrás de los quarterbacks oponentes.
Con un poco de suerte, quizá nos olvidaremos de esto en Noviembre.
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