IRVING, Texas – There's a game left to play in this season, but it's easy to forgive Jeremy Mincey for looking at the big picture.
Sunday will mark the end of a disappointing stretch for the veteran pass rusher. This time a year ago, he was the Cowboys' sack leader heading into an unlooked-for playoff run. This week, he was declared inactive for the Week 16 loss to the Bills, and if he plays against Washington this weekend, he'll still be looking for his first sack of this season.
"It's hard – it's definitely hard. I just wish we could've been able to make the impact that I knew we were capable of," Mincey said Tuesday. "With all this talent in this locker room – it's one of the most talented teams I've been on. To have whatever record we have and to be in this situation – it's definitely frustrating."
That frustration was surely evident last weekend in Buffalo, when Mincey was a surprising addition to the Cowboys' inactives list. The 32-year-old wasn't listed on the injury report all week, but the Cowboys opted to mix in some younger players in his stead.
"It's definitely frustrating, but I understand that this is a job. This is a corporate business," he said. "They do what's best for the organization, and all I can do is be the best me I can be, humanly possible."
If it's any kind of consolation, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Mincey will factor into the rotation this weekend when the Redskins come to town. Garrett said the reasoning for sitting Mincey down was a lack of bodies to play the nose-tackle position, but a season-ending injury to David Irving will ensure he's back on the field for Week 17.
"Mince went in there last week and played nose – a lot of snaps. But that's not really his natural position," Garrett said Monday. "We do anticipate Mince being back up this week with the injury to David."
Despite that fact, it's fair to say there are plenty of questions to answer regarding Mincey's future in Dallas. He's set to become a free agent in the spring, and his decreased production – 18 tackles and no sacks in 2015, as opposed to 46 tackles and six sacks in 2014 – gives cause to wonder if his future lies with the Cowboys.
"Hopefully I'll be a Cowboy – that's my hopes," Mincey said when asked about that. "But that's up to me and that's up to the Cowboys organization to allow me the opportunity to be there – it's in their hands, not mine."
Mincey won't be alone among the questions the Cowboys have to ask themselves. One of his neighbors in the locker room, Morris Claiborne, is set to enter free agency – as is another one, Greg Hardy. As is always the case in the modern NFL, parts of the Cowboys' roster likely might look unrecognizable by the time the team reports for the offseason program.
However it shakes out, Mincey said he plans to play a role in the continued development of his Cowboys teammates, like his young defensive linemates DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregrory, whether he's with the team or not.
"You've got a lot of great players, a lot of guys who grew up along this season. DeMarcus Lawrence – he grew up. We'll get Randy to where he needs to go eventually," he said. "But these are all close friends of mine, and whether I'm here or not, these are guys I will help mentor and tutor throughout this process – because I know it's a tough process."
That's veering dangerously close to offseason talk, though, and the offseason isn't quite here yet. Mincey and the Cowboys have one more game to play, and then the conversations can begin.
"I don't know what the future holds as far as this week, so all I can do is go out and give the best of Jeremy Mincey and play to the fullest Jeremy Mincey ability – and we'll see what happens," he said