The tale of two Donovans: A Dallas Cowboys story
By Matt Aaron
The Dallas Cowboys decided against keeping both preseason standout defensive backs Donovan Wilson and Donovan Olumba on their 53-man roster.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a time of celebration over making America’s Team. It was a time for remonstration and regret. Last Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys cut the roster down to 53 players from the preseason 90.
Suddenly, 37 players were out in the cold, some to latch onto the Cowboys practice squad or others. Some will hang on for a while, maybe make another 90 man-roster next year. Some will never play again.
This year, there were a number of low-profile players who showed out in the preseason games. There always are. I, for one, will never forget the 2017 preseason of recently cut tight end Rico Gathers, when he had numerous flash plays, including an amazing touchdown catch in the Hall of Fame game that year against the Arizona Cardinals.
Many had hope Rico would blossom into a rock-star tight end. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, at least not with the Cowboys.
This year, two of the most impressive players, were 2019 sixth-round draft pick safety Donovan Wilson and cornerback Donovan Olumba, an undrafted free agent who spent last year on the practice squad.
Both players made numerous splash plays. Wilson, in particular, ingratiated himself with the fans and coaches by making three interceptions in the preseason. His acrobatic, mid-air interception against the Houston Texans was particularly sensational. Considering that the Cowboys only made nine interceptions in 2018, Wilson’s play has excited many with his potential.
In fact, Pro Football Focus rated Donovan Wilson the best-performing rookie in the entire league through the first three preseason games. Take that Juan Thornhill! Many fans and pundits wanted the Cowboys to take the talented Kansas City Chiefs safety Thornhill with their second round pick, but they went with defensive tackle Trysten Hill instead.
Through the preseason, Wilson has outplayed Thornhill by leaps and bounds, making the Cowboys front office look like geniuses. The Chiefs’ second round selection recorded 11 total tackles and one pass defend in three games. In comparison, Wilson’s stat-line was 11 combined tackles, three pass defends, and three interceptions in four preseason contests.
Olumba also surprised many with his solid play this summer. The positive impression seemed to snowball with his five tackles against the Los Angeles Rams in the second preseason game, one of them being a tackle-for-loss.
Then, last week, in the final preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olumba had another four tackles, plus a pick-six, scoring a touchdown after making an electrifying interception off a tipped pass.
After this final preseason game, a lot of pundits, myself included, expected both of the mighty Donovans to make the team. This is especially true, given the fact that Dallas has two cornerbacks playing on expiring contracts this year: Pro Bowler Byron Jones and slot corner Anthony Brown.
While both have been good players for the Cowboys, it’s hard to see how Dallas can afford to sign them both with the current slate of huge contracts America’s Team still has to deal with. Consequently, many observers expected the Cowboys to include six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster.
They didn’t, keeping only five, with special teams ace C.J. Goodwin taking the fifth spot. This leaves Olumba on the practice squad while Wilson sips champagne in celebration (well, for five minutes maybe, until he resumes practicing for the season opener due to an ankle injury).
Very different scenarios present themselves to the two talented defensive backs. There is already speculation about when Wilson might replace safety Jeff Heath as starting safety opposite Xavier Woods. Meanwhile, Olumba looks to be cooling his heels on the practice squad, at least for now.
Could a Cowboys injury land Olumba on the team? Maybe. Might another team come knocking with a roster spot for the aspiring cornerback? Only the Shadow knows.
For now, one Donovan will be at home on the couch while the other Donovan could play the New York Giants on Sunday. And that makes me just a little bit sad.