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We’re Back Here Again: Cowboys Reveal Charles Tapper Had Fractured Vertebra

The mystery of why the fourth-round pick was out for most of training camp is finally solved. The question is, why it was a mystery to begin with?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Rookie Minicamp
We finally know what really happened to Tapper.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have certainly had their share of injury stories leading up to the opening of the season. Second round pick Jaylon Smith was drafted knowing that he might not play a down this year. Darren McFadden is going to start the year on the NFI list due to his broken elbow, and James Hanna is on the PUP list. Kellen Moore was lost for the season in a freak accident during practice. Tony Romo was hurt three snaps into the “dress rehearsal” game. And many of the players, including first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, have missed time during training camp and the preseason due to other injuries. One of that number was Charles Tapper. He was reported to be dealing with a back problem before the first preseason game, and he has not been able to participate fully in practice since then. In reading between the lines in various reports and social media, there was a sense that many were puzzled, because there was just no real information about his problem.

That ended on Monday, when it was finally revealed that Tapper had a broken bone in his back, what is called a Pars Defect, or Spondylolysis. What is somewhat amazing is that he did not incur this injury playing professional football. It apparently is something that has existed since he was a child, and it was never properly diagnosed. He awoke one morning in camp and was unable to move his leg. The injury was then identified, and indications are that he is healing fine (although there is no indication of what was done to treat it). He is expected to miss the first game of the season, but hopes to be back shortly.

While it is a good sign that Tapper thinks he will be back soon, this seems to be another case of the team leaving everyone in the dark about the health of a player. To put it bluntly, you cannot really trust anything that comes out of the Cowboys about injuries. They downplay things to the point of ludicrousness, and there is always a suspicion that they rush some players back too soon. This is just the latest example. We all remember the initial word after Romo’s injury indicating it was not a real problem and he was held out of the game just as a precaution. Instead, the Cowboys are now rolling into the season with a rookie quarterback as the starter. It looks like the team had a good combination of scouting out a real talent and pure luck in Dak Prescott, but that does not negate how they appeared to be in denial about Romo.

Some have asked how in the world Tapper got through the draft process without Dallas finding this problem. But he did not seem to have any issues with it in college, and it appears it took an MRI-type examination to properly diagnose this. There is no indication that any other team was aware of this, either. It has all the hallmarks of just being something that did not come up until the player took a certain kind of abuse in practice. It sounds like Tapper and the team got very lucky in that this not only did not cause a much worse problem, he is also going to be able to play early in the season.

But it only aggravates the sense of distrust the team engenders in its circumlocutory and often outright deceptive statements about injuries. There is no requirement the team to tell anything at all, of course. But the team, including Jason Garrett, often say things that lead to one conclusion when it is not at all what is really going on. Tapper was one case where withholding information just left everyone in the dark. That leads to speculation that is often very negative.

And now the team is still in the process of deciding how to handle Romo’s status on the roster. He has not been placed on injured reserve, apparently because of a belief that he will be ready to play sooner than the eight weeks he would would have to sit out if he went on IR (plus that would use up the one opportunity to recall a player from IR). The question remains whether the team is doing the best thing for Romo. The fact that they did not see fit to reveal that Tapper had a fracture in his back makes you wonder if they are really looking at Romo’s injury more from the perspective of the game and his own desire to compete, rather than the hard medical facts. Is it really safe for him to come back in three or four weeks, which seems to be what the team is angling towards? Or would putting him on IR to ensure that he takes enough time for his vertebra to properly heal be the wiser course?

Romo himself is probably lobbying hard to stay off IR and come back as soon as he thinks he is able - and in his mind, he may well think he could take some extra shots for pain and go this Sunday. And he certainly has as big a voice in things as any player on this team, perhaps as much as any in the league. As hard as it may be, thoughts of how his absence could affect the season needs to be put about. This should be a purely medical call. We all would like to believe that health considerations would come first. The problem is that the way injuries are handled publicly by Dallas puts at least a doubt in our minds about how objective they are. That may be a bit overly cynical, but that is what happens when injuries are repeatedly understated and skirted around.

We all hope this works out and both Tapper and Romo are on the field and succeeding in short order. However, this is one area where the Cowboys have engendered a certain level of distrust. That is certainly not the intention, but it is becoming increasingly the result. If both Tapper and Romo come back and have no issues from their back problems, then this is probably just a bit of paranoia. However, if either has further health repercussions that seem even remotely related to these, the questions will only mount.

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