Dallas Cowboys: What no preseason means for their young players

How are younger players on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster impacted without a preseason?

For years, many fans of the Dallas Cowboys have contemplated whether playing preseason games was actually worth it. After all, we’ve seen many high-profile players suffer injuries during these perceived meaningless exhibitions.

The most infamous and recent example is Tony Romo. The Cowboys’ former starting quarterback suffered a back injury during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. That injury would press a fourth-round rookie passer named Dak Prescott into the starting role … and he never relinquished it.

While having no preseason games might have prevented Romo from suffering the injury that ultimately ended his playing career, he may have never even had a career at all without those exhibition games. After all, he’s one of the most famous undrafted rookie free agents (UDFAs) in league history.

Undrafted out of Eastern Illinois in 2013, Romo wouldn’t see a single regular-season snap until 2016. In the meantime, his only appearances came during preseason games. And Romo is certainly not alone when it comes to UDFAs making significant contributions for the Cowboys. Names like wide receiver Cole Beasley, kicker Dan Bailey, tight end Blake Jarwin, and right tackle La’el Collins quickly come to mind.

The most recent example is linebacker Luke Gifford. Undrafted out of Nebraska in 2019, Gifford had an impressive offseason and shined in his lone preseason game last year. He recorded two tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception before suffering an ankle injury. Despite playing in just one exhibition game, it was still enough to earn Gifford a spot on the team’s final roster.

It appears the Dallas Cowboys will not have any preseason games in 2020

But with news that the NFL Players Association has recently notified their players that the league will not hold any preseason games this year due to COVID-19 concerns, fans will apparently get a chance to see how not having these exhibitions will impact the regular season. One area of major concern has to be how this news could hurt some of the younger players on the roster, specifically undrafted rookie free agents.

Here’s what Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com wrote about the trickle-down effect of having no preseason might have on the Cowboys’ current class of UDFAs in 2020.

“So, how is an undrafted rookie supposed to really stand out? Well, awareness is going to be key. They better show out in the meetings, find themselves in the right spot on the field and then when the time presents itself, make a play or three in practice.”

The fact is, this year could be the most difficult in NFL history for an unproven player to make the Cowboys’ final roster. You’d have to expect that experience would outweigh potential more than ever.

And that would not seem to bode well for the team’s current class of undrafted rookie free agents. Unproven players like TCU fullback Sewo Olonilua, Utah linebacker Francis Bernard, James Madison defensive end Ron’Dell Carter, and Illinois State safety Luther Kirk, who could have turned out to be this year’s Luke Gifford, will have fewer opportunities than ever.

Drafted rookies like center Travis Biadasz, and cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II could all fall further behind in their development without preseason games as their positions are notoriously difficult to learn as first-year players.

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But the lack of a preseason would not only impact rookies alone as the Dallas Cowboys hired a new coaching staff this offseason. With no ties or history with several of the veterans on the current roster, fringe players could quickly find themselves on the outside looking in if they fail to impress this summer. And not having a preseason means fewer opportunities for them to shine as well.