Jason Garrett is somewhat infamous for delivering the same message over and over and over. He does not waver much from his well-established philosophy. One part of that is that the Dallas Cowboys play to win every game, no matter what the circumstances. As part of that, he has stated this week that players who can play will play in the final two games.
But he also is not very fond of revealing what the team actually plans to do. Those mantra-like pronouncements often serve as a smokescreen to cover things. With nothing to be gained in the last two games other than a bit of pride for the team, it looks like that is exactly what is going on regarding how some of the top players will be handled, especially Dez Bryant.
Bryant received a lucrative contract in the offseason after a lot of drama over whether he and the team could come to an agreement. The need to have the cap space to get the deal done is believed to have played a large part in the decision to not try and match the big contract the Philadelphia Eagles offered to DeMarco Murray. However, after breaking a bone in his foot in the first game of the season, Bryant has certainly failed to provide much return on that investment. He has never looked to be 100 per cent since returning to the field. Although he had one of his better performances against the New York Jets, he still appears to be recovering.
He is also being held back more this week in practice than he has the past few. He did not participate at all in the first two sessions this week. The fact that the Cowboys are now eliminated from the playoffs is certainly not just a matter of coincidence. No matter what Garrett may say, it appears that Dallas is laying the groundwork to sit him against the Buffalo Bills to allow his injuries to heal more, and may do so the following week as well.
The Cowboys also have some other players who might be candidates for sitting or at least limiting, such as Cole Beasley and Morris Claiborne, although they saw limited participation on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday. The team still has to field enough players to get through the game so it may not be able to hold out everyone who could benefit from some rest this late in the season (which is really almost everyone to a certain degree). But Bryant is one of the key players for the team. His loss for a significant chunk of the season had almost as much impact as that of Tony Romo, although the limitations in the passing games of both Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel make it questionable how much difference a healthy Bryant would have made.
Even though Kellen Moore showed more ability to get the wide receivers involved in the passing game than either Weeden or Cassel, it still makes little sense to put a hobbled Bryant on the field in two games that can gain the Cowboys nothing. Although "tanking" is a forbidden term with the Cowboys, there is a very real difference between trying to win the last few games and going all out to do so. While there was still a scintilla of a chance for them to make the playoffs, a limited Bryant still was of value. But with that last faint hope crushed to nonexistence, then it is simply foolish to subject him to more wear and tear. Garrett may not be willing to admit it, but now is the time to take the cautious approach with their star receiver. Let Lucky Whitehead and Brice Butler take up the slack on snap counts. The team can also pull back with other players to let other depth players get some more exposure.
Even if the Cowboys do not put Bryant on the inactive list this Sunday, they still should keep Bryant's participation to a minimum. It may not fit the professed philosophy, but sometimes reality demands a little flexibility. The smart thing to do is to protect some of your key assets in meaningless games. And the Cowboys, despite some significant mistakes this year (cough) backup quarterback and running back (cough), are not a stupid franchise.