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Mickey Spagnola: The Schedule To Start The Season Is A Big Headache For The Dallas Cowboys

The first game of the season against the Giants is putting some unique pressure on Jason Garrett and the Cowboys.
The first game of the season against the Giants is putting some unique pressure on Jason Garrett and the Cowboys.

The opening game for the Dallas Cowboys, traveling to New Jersey to play the New York Giants, is, well, a bit odd this year. It is the first time the Cowboys have ever played a Wednesday night game. I don't know if the NFL has ever played a Wednesday game. Maybe a very long time ago, before TV started affecting the scheduling. And, as has been covered before, Dallas, due to the schedule to start the season and the rules of the CBA, will get three days less of pre-season than the G-Men.

But, as Mickey Spagnola points out in a detailed article at, it is the end of the preseason that puts a serious crimp in the preparation for that first game. Both Dallas and New York face a strange set of circumstances that affect not just game preparation but the entire process of finalizing the roster and trying to make any last minute free agent signings.

I'll be quoting extensively from Spagnola's article here. He does an excellent job of laying out things, and reading it all makes my head spin. I can't imagine trying to sort all this out on my own. And sometimes, there are things from other sources that just need to be shared here.

Normally, if the Cowboys were preparing for a Sunday game, the first full practice would be held on Wednesday, with the possibility of a short workout on Monday and the mandatory off day on Tuesday. Well, since this is a Wednesday game, Saturday, Sept. 1 becomes the equivalent of Wednesday for them.

So the plan for the Cowboys will be to practice Saturday, Sunday and Monday, hold a walk-through on Tuesday and then climb aboard their charter flight to Newark later that day since they are required to arrive at least 24 hours prior to the 8:20 p.m. (ET) kickoff time.

To accommodate this strange, mid-week kickoff to the season that normally would occur on a Thursday... the Cowboys and Giants final preseason games will be played the previous Wednesday night, Aug. 29.

Fair enough, right, since Thursday will be like a Monday - short and sweet, with postgame lift and run - and Friday will serve as the normal Tuesday day off.

To find out all the ramifications of this, read on after the jump.

The two teams are facing a very short preparation time to accommodate the early game, unlike the rest of the NFL, which gets nine or even ten days to prepare for the season opener. But then the things start to pile up.

Rosters must be trimmed to their maximum of 53 by 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31. OK fine, everyone is in the same boat there. But remember, the Cowboys must begin practice for the Giants game on Saturday.

Well, teams are allowed an eight-man practice squad, which can't be put together earlier than 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1. Guys released must clear waivers before being eligible to be signed to the practice squad. But by 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday, the Cowboys and Giants will be halfway through their first day of game preparation.

Also, if the Cowboys had any desire to claim veterans off the waiver wire in time to participate that first week of the season, well, those claims won't be awarded under the current rules until 11 a.m. Saturday, too.

So while everyone else in the NFL is able to concentrate on their final roster moves, Dallas is going to have to do that at the same time it is trying to get ready for the first game. Something, it seems, is going to have to give.

What are the Cowboys and Giants to do? Start preparation with no practice squad? Don't bother putting in waiver claims on veterans? Or maybe move the practices to late afternoon or evening, so at least a practice squad can be signed in time for that first practice of game week? Can't imagine any guys awarded on waiver claims can arrive at The Ranch in time for even a Saturday evening practice. Probably Sunday at the earliest.

Start practice late, say 8 p.m.? OK, but then the Cowboys would have to find a place with lights to practice, because, uh, Cowboys Stadium will be preoccupied with that Alabama-Michigan game.

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I have to think this will really be eating at Jason Garrett by the time all this rolls around, because he is big on preparation. This is one of the biggest opening games the Cowboys have ever faced, an away game against a division rival who just happens to be the defending Super Bowl champion. (If you need to go wash out your mouth from throwing up a little at that last thought, go ahead. We understand.)

And it gets worse. Mickey points out that the Cowboys coaching staff will have to come up with their game-plan for the Giants a little early. But how early do you start? If you start too early, then some of the guys you weed out along the way could possibly end up as pickups on the other side. Do you think that the two teams might want to sign someone from the other team just to get a look at what they are up to? Well, I don't know if the roster will allow that - but . . .

The one thing that makes this slightly better is that the Giants are in the same boat. Except for getting to start the pre-season earlier than the Cowboys. Jerry Jones has brought this to the attention of the league, but is not really hoping for any relief here. The Cowboys are not exactly the favored sons of the NFL right now, as a certain cap penalty demonstrated all too well. It makes you wonder if John Mara is making sure that the Cowboys get no relief on that discrepancy. Three days may not seem like too much, but when you are looking at the 25 days the Cowboys have for their preparation, the Giants have 12% more time to practice than the Cowboys. That does not look insignificant to me.

The Cowboys do get ten days after the first game to try and get things caught up. But that first game will be in the books.

I think most were aware that the Cowboys had some extra challenges facing them to start the season, but until Spagnola laid it all out, I had no idea just how convoluted and intertwined the issues really are. In the end, all he may have done is to, as my brother is wont to say, get us all really urinated, but I appreciate knowing the details.

And since Mickey's article was so informative, I think everybody should click over and read the whole thing.


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