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How Many Players Could Return For The Cowboys This Season?

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To keep track of all the Cowboys players who have been injured or suspended that might return this season, you need a scorecard.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the news that Randy Gregory’s suspension is now an official 14 games, it got me wondering just how many players Dallas might be missing right now who could still suit up for the team this season. Let’s take a look, in order of their potential return.

Potential Returns In Zero - Three Games

  • Dez Bryant. Hasn’t missed any time yet, but with hairline fracture of his knee, might miss up to three weeks, or even longer. Might also play Sunday. Today he received “great feedback” from Dr. Andrews.
  • Tyron Smith. Back tightness. Missed Bears game. Has not practiced this week, but could still return for the 49ers game.
  • Orlando Scandrick. Hamstrings. Missed Bears game. Limited in practice this week. Might play against 49ers.
  • Mark Nzeocha. Has not played since the pre-season, when he intercepted a pass. Limited in practice this week. When will he return?
  • DeMarcus Lawrence. Last game of his suspension is this week. Will return for Bengals game.

Potential Returns After Game Six

  • James Hanna. He opted to have knee surgery before the season and the Cowboys put him on the reserve PUP list, keeping him out of the first six games. The seventh week is a bye, so Hanna could return for the Philadelphia game. If he’s not healed by then, the Cowboys can extend his return for several weeks.
  • Darren McFadden. His offseason elbow injury did not heal through training camp, so the Cowboys opted to put him on the NFI (or non-football injury) list to start the season. He could return the same week as James Hanna. Might he also be traded?
  • Tony Romo. Tony was hurt in week 3 of the preseason, with a back fracture that was estimated to heal in 6-10 weeks. That would mean he might be able to return as early as the Green Bay game (week six), or not until the Eagles, Browns, or Steelers games.

Potential Returns After 10 Games

  • Rolando McClain. No one thinks Rolando McClain is going to play for the Cowboys again, but then again, they haven’t cut him. He’s on a 10-game suspension, meaning his first possible return would be game 11, at home against the Ravens.
  • Charles Tapper. The Cowboys put their first fourth round pick on IR this week, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s out for the year. The IR, designated to return rules have changed in recent years. Now teams don’t have to designate who will return. They can still only use the return on one player. Since the Cowboys did not put Tony Romo or La’el Collins on IR, at the moment, Tapper is currently the most valuable player on this list (Kellen Moore is the other one on it). As such, he must miss at least eight weeks. By my count, he could potentially be back for the 12th game, against Washington.
  • La’el Collins. At the moment, Collins is resting the toe for a couple of weeks, hoping to avoid surgery, which would sideline him further. This is very similar to an injury both Sean Lee and Terrell McClain have suffered, and it knocked them out for the rest of the season. It may still sideline La’el that long. But at this point we’re just guessing.
  • Randy Gregory. His suspension is now official at 14 games. That would mean he could be back for the Lions game in week 16. He does get to work out and attend meetings during this time, just not practice. So it’s difficult to project that he could be ready to play by the end of the season. Still, it’s now possible.

The Wild Card

  • Jaylon Smith. Is the nerve firing? Is he walking around without a brace? If he were, what’s the earliest he might be ready to play some football? Anyone have any information on this front?

When you look at this list, and then realize the Cowboys are 2-1 and favored to win this week on the road in San Francisco, it’s pretty amazing.

Among the injured players who have missed games or are likely to miss this week’s game (Dez Bryant), you have

  • #1 wide receiver (Dez)
  • Starting quarterback (Romo)
  • Starting left tackle (Smith)
  • Best defensive lineman (Lawrence)
  • Potential #1 cornerback (Scandrick)
  • Best middle linebacker when he plays (McClain)
  • Best future middle linebacker (Smith)
  • Potentially second-best linebacker when he returns (Nzeocha)
  • Starting left guard (Collins)
  • Leading rusher from 2015 (McFadden)
  • Best blocking tight end (Hanna)
  • Fastest defensive lineman (Gregory)
  • Rookie fourth-round defensive end (Tapper).

13 guys, six on offense, seven on defense.

Maybe “next man up” will finally work in Dallas.