Sometimes, a very few words can speak volumes.
It is easy as fans to declare a given player a bust. We do tend to be into instant gratification, and if a player is not dominating Pro Bowl opponents by the second quarter of the first game he has ever played in a Dallas Cowboys uniform, we are known at times to start calling for him to be kicked out. But the team, of course, will usually take a different approach. They have the scouting they did to draft or sign the player in the first place, the time spent watching and evaluating the player in practice, and the knowledge that there is not a Playermart down the road where the team can just go in and pick a stud athlete with high football IQ off a shelf. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars they have already paid to the player. It is understandable that even someone with as much disposable income as Jerry Jones wants to get a return on his investment.
Kyle Wilber was seen, for a season and a half, as a largely wasted draft pick. Drafted to be a 3-4 OLB, he saw only limited use as DeMarcus Ware's backup, and the switch this season to the 4-3 left him a bit of an odd man out, without enough size to play DE effectively. Then the rash of injuries left the Cowboys woefully short of linebackers, and Wilber was used to fill in for Justin Durant as the strongside, or Sam, linebacker. He outplayed everyone's expectations, and has been endorsed by Jerry Jones as the new starter.
This is why the average fan is not on an NFL payroll. Knee jerk reactions and poorly informed opinions are not just typical, but, I believe, a constitutionally protected right for fans, but bad tools for the staff of a professional football team. Our jobs don't depend on whether our judgments would help or hurt the team. In this case, the Cowboys' staff saw a player with talent and the right approach to his craft who they were just having a hard time finding the right place to use. Now, they have a nice bit of lemonade to enjoy as Wilber is blossoming into an effective part of the defense.
Which is also a reason to still have hope for Matt Johnson. There are no guarantees that he will ever be able to get on the field and contribute, but there is nothing that makes it impossible, either. He is just one of the players that the Cowboys have waiting in the wings who could show up next season.
Taking the long view is one part of the approach that Jason Garrett has to coaching a football team. And he looks to be having a lot of success in getting everyone on board with that. It may not always work out, as the Jeremiah Ratliff situation proves, but on balance it is an intelligent approach to take.
With the Cowboys in the midst of a run to try and get back to the playoffs, we are very aware of how much the team has had to overcome with injuries on the defensive side of the ball (and Ratliff's defection). Johnson would have been great help in the secondary if he is the player the team thinks he is. But, as we all know, it is the defensive line that took the brunt of the bad news this year. And a look at the names that may be available to return means that things might be very different for the 2014 season.
Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass will almost certainly have big roles to play next year. Both were penciled in as key backups, at a minimum, and had either remained healthy, would almost certainly have seen time starting this year. Reports are that Crawford in particular is progressing very well with his rehab.
Tyrone Crawford was on the practice field, too. Working on the resistance cords. Smile on his face. Looked at home in the cold.— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) December 5, 2013
There may be another player on injured reserve that could come back, although it is much less certain. Anthony Spencer collected one heck of a big paycheck to do nothing more than rehab his injured knee. $10,627,000.00, to be exact. He got that money because the Cowboys put the franchise tag on him rather than see him be hired away in free agency. Then, he was unable to play at all. Now, after a year off the field, he may not be nearly as attractive to other teams. And you have to think that someone would mention that Dallas has paid for a year they did not get out of him. He might return to the field on a reasonably priced one- or two-year deal, especially if there are few other teams showing any interest in him. Whether he would still be effective would remain to be seen, but it would be nice to find out.
That is three potential names to add to the defensive line. And there is one more. In January, Josh Brent goes to trial, and depending on the outcome, may be available to try and come back to the Cowboys to try and rebuild his career.
I want to be clear that I am not taking a position against or in favor of Brent getting another chance. I just was intrigued when this fact was mentioned on DallasCowboys.com's Talking Cowboys this week. Obviously, if he is given a prison sentence of any duration, he would not be available to play, but that is not a foregone conclusion. It is well known that Stacey Jackson, the mother of Jerry Brown, the victim who was killed in the car crash with Brent driving, has forgiven Brent and asked that he be shown mercy. There is no way to predict the outcome of the trial, but Brent could be found not guilty or given some reduced sentence on a lesser charge that might not involve jail time. Should he be in a position to play again, Dallas would have the first choice to give him a chance. He is technically retired, but if he chose to reenter the game, the Cowboys retain rights to him, according to what Bryan Broaddus said. Given the support that Brent got from the team immediately after the crash, it is certainly conceivable that they would give him a chance if he is available.
Many may find that idea distasteful, but it would be the ultimate in not giving up on a player. And it could also be seen as not destroying two lives when it is not needed. It may be rendered moot if he is convicted and locked away. If not, don't be surprised if he is given his chance. The Cowboys don't usually give up on players if they don't have to.