Should the Cowboys risk injury by playing their veteran star players this week or should they risk “rust” and protect them?
The Cowboys are roughly 12 hours away from their third preseason game of 2016. The third game, traditionally considered a dress rehearsal, will offer one last chance for veteran players to get up to speed and kick off some offseason rust before the real season begins.
Coming out of the gates strong is statistically important in the NFL. Teams that start slowly, face an uphill battle, no matter how much they improve throughout the season. Losing divisional games only seems to compound the incline of the hill slow-starting teams must traverse.
It’s clear, rusty star players can hurt a season if their sub-par play leads to early unnecessary losses.
Would you rather risk “rust” or risk injury?
Case settled, right? Not exactly.
The only thing that’s worse than unnecessary rust is unnecessary injuries.
Preseason games are really nothing more than exhibition games. They are glorified practice. Under today’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) they are close to the only full-speed full-contact action players will see before the real season begins.
Veteran players use the preseason to develop rhythm and/or regain conditioning and form. They have their priorities set and are typically no risk to themselves or others. It’s the other 70 players you have to worry about. NFL rosters are obnoxiously inflated this time of year. Following this game, cuts will be made on all rosters.
That makes this time of year a dangerous one. Players are desperate. Desperate to salvage their life-long dream. Desperate to prove, with possibly one amazing play, that they belong in the NFL. They are disparately dangerous.
On the risk-reward scale, it’s not even a discussion. Veteran cornerstone players have nothing to gain and everything to lose this time of year.
The preseason is, in a sense, a game of managing risk. Teams embark the exhibition season with two clear goals:
- Develop and prepare a roster and
- Don’t let anyone get injured.
Both players are veteran cornerstones on the Dallas Cowboys. Both players are completely irreplaceable. And both players have a very concerning injury history.
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The defense is starved for talent. Sean Lee is far and away the most talented player on that side of the ball. Losing him would be catastrophic. Tony Romo proved just last season how important he is to the Cowboys offense. Dak Prescott looks great these days but don’t let his success fool you into thinking this team has a chance if they lost Romo for an extended period of time.
Ask yourself this, would you rather risk rust or risk injury?
It’s kind of a loaded question because the obvious answer is that you’d rather risk rust. But in all fairness, what also needs to be factored is the likelihood of each to occur (rust vs injury) and for how long.
I’d argue that Sean Lee is such a prepared young man, he could probably hit the ground running in March if there was a game to play. Rust really isn’t a concern. Injuries, on the other hand, are. Lee has a storied history of injuries dating back to college. And we’re talking very significant injuries here.
QB is a different animal. Passers need to get up to game speed, feel the pressure, and develop their timing with their receivers. The more Tony Romo throws the ball, the better he’ll be. But there’s 17 days in between this game and the season opener. Will a few live action reps really develop and carry over that far down the road?
Not to mention, Dez Bryant isn’t even going to play. The offense fundamentally changes without the Dez Bryant Effect. Is developing continuity with Terrance Williams and Brice Butler worth risking Romo? Did Romo look that bad last week to cause such a panic move?
The overall odds still say neither player will get injured in any isolated ½ of football. But their individual injury history indicates they are far more likely to be injured than just your average player. Combine that with their importance for the team, and you have a considerable amount of risk in play.
Football is a violent game and injuries inevitably happen. You can’t hide from them but you can certainly avoid some of them, which is why the CBA limits practice and preseason contact in the first place. Is holding Romo and Lee back too cautious? Probably, but I’d much rather be too cautious and risk a little rust than see the season implode because of an unnecessary injury in August.