(Football season is finally approaching. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 25. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2019.)
FRISCO, Texas – It wouldn’t be a Cowboys offseason without a suspension.
It’s not a proud distinction, but this has been a consistent storyline for the Cowboys going back for six years. This year, as was recently revealed, it’s Rico Gathers who won’t be available at the start of the season. The NFL announced last week that the fourth-year tight end will be suspended for the first game of the 2019 season for violating the substance abuse policy.
This was already a big year for Gathers, who is nearing the end of his rookie contract after being drafted as a developmental player after a successful college basketball career. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad, and 2017 saw him land on injured reserve before he finally made the active roster last fall.
This suspension adds some extra intrigue to what should already be a competitive roster battle. Which begs the question: how will the suspension affect Rico Gathers’ prospects of making this team?
Nick Eatman: If there is a team that knows how to get a player ready for the season despite a suspension, it would be the Cowboys. Usually, it’s offensive players, but they’ve had quite the running history of these suspended players. Now most of them are players that aren’t question marks to make the team such as Gathers. Yes, he’ll get to play in the preseason and practice in full during camp. If anything, it helps the Cowboys get at least one more week to figure out their roster. I could see Gathers moving to the suspension list, and the Cowboys keeping another player from a different position. By Week 2, something will be sorted out where Gathers could return – if the Cowboys are willing to keep him another year. Like any other season, he needs to ball out during camp and I would say this would be his final shot if he doesn’t.
David Helman: Am I crazy for thinking this might help Rico in the long run? You’d obviously prefer not to be suspended, but this gives the Cowboys an extra week to make a decision on him. If they’re not convinced they want him on the roster, he can go to the suspended list for a week. There’s no telling what could happen in Week 1 that might open up a roster spot. And if Gathers has an amazing preseason and locks down a spot on the team, then a one-week suspension won’t be nearly as big of a setback as some of the four-game suspensions we’ve seen over the years. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the tight end situation this year. With Jason Witten back in the starting lineup, will this coaching staff want to go heavy at the position? It’s up to Gathers to prove that they should. But, as weird as it sounds, this suspension could give them an extra week to make up their minds.
Rob Phillips: Well, it’s never good to be ruled ineligible for the first regular-season game when you’re still trying to make a roster. But Gathers’ suspension is related to his misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest from last August, not a new incident, so we’re not talking about a repetitive off-field issue here. I don’t think his situation is much different from last training camp, to be honest. He was the fourth tight end on the roster last year in terms of total snap count, and that same role is a possibility again if the Cowboys keep four tight ends. He’s got an entire camp and preseason to further prove himself.
Lindsay Draper: Not only is Rico Gathers entering his fourth season with little production, the Cowboys took Jason Witten back out of retirement and seem a bit full at the position. They’ll obviously have an extra week to mull over their decision to keep him on the roster during his one-game suspension, but his spot is definitely in jeopardy. It simply comes down to their dedication to getting him into special situations, but the suspension may have made the numbers game a tad easier as training camp rolls around.