The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been able to win a Super Bowl in over two decades, and although they’ve built several teams worthy of hoisting a Lombadri trophy over that time, the draught leaves them susceptible to second guessing when it comes to roster decisions. Over the last 48 hours, the team has whittled down their offseason roster to 53 players, while also adding 14 of a potential 17 practice squad candidates.
While most of the roster has seemed set for a while, it’s obviously a difficult decision in some areas on which player has a better chance to contribute to the club. Short term versus long term comes into play, as teams decide which veterans they’ll be able to bring back, which young players to risk being poached by other teams and sometimes even which prospects you risk pissing off. In the litany of moves, some happen to raise the eyebrow of a large percentage of the fanbase and for the Cowboys, two of those decisions centered around QB Garrett Gilbert and DE Ron’Dell Carter.
(AP Photo/David Richard)
The Cowboys found Gilbert on Cleveland’s practice squad last season. After franchise QB Dak Prescott went down in a Week 5 heap, the only remaining QB on the roster was Andy Dalton. The team also had seventh-round flyer Ben DiNucci out of FCS school James Madison. Dallas did the poaching this time, snaring Gilbert from the Browns. Dalton was going to take the reins, but needed a backup in case something happened to him, which it did when he suffered a devastating cheap shot at the hands of the Washington Football Team in Week 7. Gilbert wasn’t active so DiNucci finished the contest throwing three passes and being sacked three more times.
vs Ben DiNucci
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
With Gilbert still not quite up to speed the rest of the offense, and the fanbase, was subjected to DiNucci for a start in one of the worst quarterbacking performances in recent memory. He was sacked four times by Philadelphia and went 21 for 40 for just 180 yards and no scores. The next week Gilbert got the start and almost pulled off the upset of the 8-0 Pittsburgh Steelers, just falling short of a game-winning drive and finishing 21 for 38 for 243 yards with one touchdown pass and an interception.
Cowboys Training Camp 27
Gilbert entered the offseason as, and continued through most of training camp and preseason as the presumed QB2 behind Prescott. Against Houston though, he was outperformed by former Prescott backup Cooper Rush, who was signed to the practice squad when Dalton had gone done but didn’t appear in a game that year. A surprise to some, all of the buzz coming from the media was how Rush had overtaken Gilbert in the race and it was confirmed leaked buzz as Dallas named Rush the starter against Jacksonville in the preseason finale. Neither of the two QBs looked sharp in that game but come cutdown day, both Gilbert and DiNucci were released leaving Rush as the backup. That’s not egregious, though it is puzzling on some levels. What’s more puzzling is that when it came down to adding guys to the practice squad, the club signed DiNucci for that role in lieu of adding Gilbert. This is in light of the team adding Will Grier, a former third-round pick, to the active roster as a waiver claim. DiNucci has been a horror show for most of camp, consistently throwing off his back foot and showing very little feel for the game. He is, of course, forever linked with the head coach Mike McCarthy having played for the coach’s brother and hailing from Western Pennsylvania. It raises some eyebrows that Gilbert went from outside observers feeling relatively comfortable with him being Prescott’s backup — in a “backups are basically the same no-win proposition” way — to not even being one of the three quarterbacks in the fold behind the starter. Gilbert has since signed on with the New England Patriots practice squad. https://twitter.com/FieldYates/status/1433195428548423682
DE Ron’Dell Carter
(AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Gilbert’s saga might not even compare to the weirdness around the Carter situation, though. Carter, hailing from the same James Madison as DiNucci, was one of 2020’s most coveted UDFA signings across the league. He chose the Cowboys over 24 other offers. Surprisingly, under the Mike Nolan regime, he didn’t make the 53-man roster out of 2020’s training camp. He cleared waivers, joined the practice squad and sat there for a few weeks before the Indianapolis Colts took him away amidst a rash of DL injuries. He spent the requisite three weeks there before being released, and the Cowboys seemed to get a do-over, signing him to the active roster for the remainder of the year. Carter was active for three games and saw 26 defensive snaps along with 39 on special teams. He was invited back for 2021 camp and performed more than admirably.
2021 preseason performance
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Carter saw the most snaps of any defensive linemen over the team’s four exhibition games, getting 175 reps for Dan Quinn. He played both inside and outside, showing the versatility many thought he possessed in an effort to be the next Tyrone Crawford type of swiss-army knife. According to Pro Football Focus, he led the Cowboys in QB pressures, with 11 that included a sack and four QB hits. He also had four run stops. He was caught up in a numbers game though as Dallas kept undersized edge rusher Azur Kamara on the 53-man roster ahead of him and subjected Carter to waivers. Which he cleared. However Carter, apparently tired of being on the outside looking in with Dallas, decided he wanted to seek other opportunities and turned down their offer to join the practice squad, instead signing on with the Arizona Cardinals JV squad.
Will they regret it?
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It’s more likely than not neither of these players are going to turn into world beaters with their new organizations. Still as McCarthy often cites, he had over 70 active players the year he won a Super Bowl with Green Bay. These players could have been contributing factors, this year or next year or in four years. One never knows who the team is letting escape the building and will have a better career than guys the team decided to keep on. Cowboys fans will always keep a close eye on the careers of these guys to see if Dallas’ brass made mistakes with the choice to let them leave.