FRISCO, Texas – I feel like I never have déjà vu about the good things.
Over the course of my eight seasons covering this team, I've got a lot of fond memories that stand out as singular. Nothing will ever replicate the insane win streak of 2016, or the marvelous run of play we saw from Tony Romo down the back stretch of 2014.
But man, the bad times sure do seem to run together.
Maybe it's because bad stretches force you into desperate circumstances. When the Football Gods are conspiring against you, as seems to be the case with the 2020 Dallas Cowboys, perhaps you're forced to open the same playbook because you have no other choice.
That's the best explanation I can come up with, because I have got the worst case of déjà vu from other seasons – and not in a good way.
- I cannot help but laugh when I hear the news that Cooper Rush is on his way back to Dallas.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that as a knock on Rush. It's just a testament to how dicey things get when you don't have healthy quarterbacks.
It wasn't that long ago that Dallas had one of the most enviable quarterback rooms in the league. They had a top-tier starter in Dak Prescott and one of the best handful of backups out there in Andy Dalton. Ben DiNucci was never supposed to do more than play scout team and hold a clipboard.
And now look at us. Dak's done for the year, and Dalton is dealing with one of the nastiest-looking concussions I can think of in recent memory. Barring a remarkable recovery on Dalton's part, DiNucci is going to start for this team on Sunday. That's pretty incredible considering no one outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., or Harrisonburg, Va., had heard of him six months ago.
Consider all of that, and of course Cooper Rush is re-signing with the Cowboys. This team is one injury away from needing to play Garrett Gilbert, who has been here for 20 minutes, or an emergency quarterback – think Blake Bell or Cedrick Wilson.
- That brings me back to the déjà vu part. Doesn't this remind you just a tad of 2015?
It was oh-so similar, if you'll recall. The Cowboys had Tony Romo coming off an MVP-caliber 2014. They had a decent backup in Brandon Weeden -- who definitely was not as good as Dalton, but did have 20 starts and 5,000 career passing yards to his name.
Now think about where things went from there. Weeden lasted precisely two weeks after Romo broke his collarbone before the front office traded for Matt Cassel. It was a move that felt pretty desperate, but the desperation was justifiable given that the team only needed to hold the rope long enough for Romo to return.
When Romo re-injured himself on Thanksgiving, though, things got real whacky. Cassel made several of the most spectacularly bad starts you'll ever see, the team yo-yo'ed Kellen Moore off and on the active roster. And when it was all said and done, Moore wound up getting an extended audition over the final three weeks of the season.
Hopefully, it doesn't get too strange this season. You'd like to think Dalton can re-assume the starting role when he's healthy again. But given the status of this depleted offensive line, who can say how quickly things might change?
With all due respect to Cooper Rush, hopefully this team doesn't need him to play a snap in 2020. But it just serves as a reminder of the choices you're forced to make when you don't have healthy quarterbacks.
- As if this wasn't all bad enough, the ongoing pandemic is going to keep Rush from the joining the team this week. In a normal year, he could have been at the facility by Monday night and be running packages in practice by Wednesday.
Thanks to COVID-19, he's got to test negative six times before he can truly get involved. That means that, if Dalton isn't available this weekend, it has to be DiNucci or Gilbert.
Which honestly made me wonder. I wonder if anyone on the football side of the building has considered the fact that one of their former backup quarterbacks is already in the building – already passed the COVID protocols, and already very familiar with this offense.
That's right, y'all. Kellen Moore is still here, in case you forgot.
Sure, laugh if you want to. Just remember that Moore's last regular season appearance for the Dallas Cowboys saw him bomb away for 435 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-48 passing. He's also halfway through his second season as offensive coordinator, so I mean who could honestly hope to have a better grasp of his offense than him?
The equipment staff probably still has his measurements. This wouldn't be difficult. Why wait eight days for an outsider when Moore could walk downstairs and get himself ready?
- Alright, before anyone freaks out and gets this aggregated on ProFootballTalk, I am very much kidding.
Having gotten to know Kellen a little bit over the last few years, I'm positive he'd be the first person to say something self-deprecating about why that's not a great idea.
Still, the amount of bad breaks this team has taken makes you wonder how quickly this might look like a viable idea. We are many, many decades removed from the age of the player/coach. But in a season where we're grasping at straws looking for positives, it'd be pretty fun to see the Cowboys' offensive coordinator literally calling his own offense inside the huddle.
- Let's be very clear: this season doesn't look like it's going anywhere promising. At the same time, spare me this talk about the Cowboys being in "sell mode."
Fire sales don't happen too often in the NFL, but this isn't what they look like. If you want that blueprint, go back to last year and look at the Miami Dolphins.
In a few short months, they shipped off most of the key pieces of their roster in exchange for draft capital. Ryan Tannehill was shipped off to Tennessee, while Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills were both sent to Houston in exchange for a haul of draft picks. Robert Quinn wound up here in Dallas in another trade for draft picks.
Does that seem similar to what's happening in Dallas? Everson Griffen was a one-year rental, and a bargain at that. The Cowboys offered him a modest deal in the hope that he'd put their pass rush over the top and boost his own contract stock in the process. He was supposed to be one last piece that would help the pass rush compensate for a thin secondary.
Dontari Poe and Daryl Worley were journeymen players and bargain bin signings. Given that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix didn't even make it out of training camp, it wouldn't have been terribly shocking if neither veteran had made the Opening Day roster. Clearly, neither guy was playing above replacement level, so the Cowboys opted to get by with their youth.
That's hardly a fire sale. It's more like roster churning for a disappointing defense.
There's nothing about any of those moves that suggest the Cowboys are about to start shedding major contracts. Spare me the dumb stories about trading Amari Cooper or DeMarcus Lawrence.
This is decent roster that didn't make any decent additions free agency and got extremely unlucky with injuries. There are a lot of things that will need improving in 2021. But anyone trying to demolish the whole thing right now just isn't patient enough to see a bigger picture.
- Hell yeah, Dez Bryant.
If I'm doing anything I can to find something to be happy about in 2020, then Dez Bryant back in an NFL uniform definitely qualifies.
Bryant signed with the Baltimore Ravens this week after a long flirtation, and he's already on the practice field.
One week before his 32nd birthday, Bryant gets the gift of playing professional football again. He's technically on the Ravens' practice squad, but thanks to the new COVID-19 rules he can be activated to the 53-man roster whenever he is deemed ready.
Now, just so you don't think I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth: I said for a long time that there was no need for a Dez reunion in Dallas, and I stand by that.
The Cowboys were turning over a new page with a new coaching staff and a new crop of talent to carry this thing forward. Bryant was over 30, coming off an Achilles injury and unlikely to play a role on special teams. It didn't make a ton of sense to stick him in a limited role for nostalgia's sake.
Not much has gone right this season, but the success of the receiver corps has proven my point. Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown have proven just how valuable they can be as receivers and as special teamers, and that's not to mention the obvious skills of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.
Dez's NFL return needed to happen somewhere else, but that doesn't mean I'm not rooting for the guy. In the time I've covered the team, he's the most electric playmaker to suit up for the Cowboys. Most of my biggest memories working here involve him – from the three-touchdown game in Philadelphia in 2014, to the time he got outdueled by Calvin Johnson in Detroit … and yes, obviously That Catch at Lambeau Field.
So yeah, suffice to say I'm stoked that Dez is back in the NFL. I hope he can stay healthy, and I hope Lamar Jackson can help him throw up a few more X's. I'll definitely have my eye on Baltimore as it all unfolds.
- Last time I get to write this column before Election Day, so just a friendly reminder to go vote. People all over this country are making it easier and more accessible than ever before, and it's the bedrock of what makes this country so great.
Here in Texas, we've already seen 94% of the 2016 total turnout cast their votes during the early voting period. That doesn't count Friday, which is the last day of the early period – and it obviously doesn't include Election Day.
I don't know what that means in the big picture, but it's absolutely incredible that so many more people than usual are taking it seriously.
So go vote! I'm not telling you who to vote for, nor do I want you to tell me. But I definitely don't want to hear your opinion later if you don't make yourself heard now.