FRISCO, Texas – It wasn't a coverage or an opponent or a playbook that opened Micah Parsons' eyes to life in the NFL, but a tweet.
The Cowboys' rookie phenom was in his bedroom watching TV on Tuesday night, completely unaware – much like the rest of the sports world – that his organization was about to shuffle its roster in a big way.
"My mom comes pounding on my door, like 'Oh my God, oh my God. Jaylon,'" Parsons said. "I was like 'What are you talking about?' Then I looked online and heard the news."
It's a stark reminder that being inside the circle doesn't always make one "in the know." Much like Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch said he found out when his phone started lighting up with acquaintances texting him to ask about the news.
For Parsons, entering his sixth month in professional football, it was a first and memorable reminder of the business side of the sport.
"People have been looking for my 'Welcome to the NFL' moment," he said. "I think last night pretty much summed it up."
Of course, a big part of the business of the NFL is that life goes on. The Cowboys took the field Wednesday after practice, and while the linebacker group looked a bit light with just five players, it looked about the same as any other practice they've held this season.
As strange as it might be to process the absence of six-year veteran, Vander Esch said the defense has to be ready to account for the change.
"I mean, all of the linebackers have to be ready to play all of the linebacker positions, regardless of week to week," he said. "I take pride in knowing all of the positions, Sam, Mike or Will. It doesn't matter. Depending on what package it is, it doesn't matter."
It has to be a surreal week for Vander Esch, who took the league by storm alongside Smith during the Cowboys' 2018 run to the playoffs – an achievement that feels like several lifetimes ago after the last three years.
Vander Esch allowed that Smith left a message with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, which he relayed to his teammates after his departure.
"The statement he gave to DQ yesterday, telling us to go get it and that he's got everybody's backs regardless of the situation that he's in, it just shows you the character and type of person that he is," Vander Esch said
Asked about processing the news, Vander Esch had some strong words for critics, particularly those who lob harsh words on social media. And while it's true that NFL players are paid handsomely for their talents, it is true that they can find themselves in a different job – or without one – at a moment's notice.
"We've got families who might be in one area," he said. "You've got dudes that have been playing for a team for eight years. They get traded, they've got family, they've got kids that have been there for that long."
Even still, the wheel keeps turning, and the spotlight shines just a bit brighter on the guys left behind. For a rookie like Parsons, it's an introduction. For everyone, it's a reminder: it is a business, at the end of the day.
"The business side of things is over our head," said Keanu Neal. "You can't sit on things too long. You've got to move forward and keep going."