As Rico-mania has gathered momentum among the Cowboys faithful, we learn that the future for the basketballer-turned-footballer could have been very different. Yes, Rico Gathers was almost a Raider, the team the Cowboys play on Saturday night.
The Cowboys drafted Gathers out of Baylor with a sixth-round pick in 2016. At that time, it had been since middle school that Gathers had played football, instead he concentrated his efforts on basketball. He had a nice career a Baylor, but the NBA likely wasn’t in his future, so he decided to become an NFL tight end. The Cowboys saw the potential in the physically imposing Gathers and took a flier on him. It’s starting to pay off. Before Gathers suffered a concussion in practice, he was having a very good preseason. He could be a real contributor for the Cowboys this year, and for many more to come. But it almost didn’t work out that way.
At the end of the preseason last year, the Cowboys cut Gathers, he just wasn’t ready yet to be on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys were counting on Gathers getting through to their practice squad where they could continue to force-feed him the basics of being an NFL tight end. That’s where the Raiders stepped in. As relayed by Jason King at Bleacher Report, the story goes like this:
After logging just 12 snaps and one reception in four preseason games, Gathers wasn't surprised when the Cowboys cut him with the intention of signing him to their practice squad. The shocker came a few days after, when Oakland contacted Gathers and offered him a spot on its 53-man roster.
"It was crazy," Gathers says. "I hadn't done anything to deserve that."
Rather than earn $112,200 in Dallas, Gathers would make a league-minimum $499,990 with the Raiders. The money too significant to pass up, Gathers informed Jones he was signing with Oakland.
"Sorry," Jones told him. "We can't let that happen."
Even though a promotion to the 53-man roster in 2016 seemed unlikely, Jones matched the Raiders' offer and paid Gathers like a full-time member of the team. With one signature, Gathers became the highest-paid practice-squad player in the NFL.
That is how much the Cowboys believed in the potential of Gathers. As a note, do yourself a favor and read the whole article, it has a ton of information about Gathers and how he has reached this point in his life.
He’s also getting a ton of help from the guy he’s hoping to replace one day. There was some raised eyebrows a while back when Gathers said he was the “heir apparent” to Jason Witten. Gathers insists no disrespect was intended.
"I'm not ever going to disrespect anyone, especially Jason Witten," Gathers says. "He's been like a big brother to me. And growing up, my goal was always to someday be as good as my big bro (Greg Gathers, who was a star for Georgia Tech football). Every day I think, 'Man, someday I hope I can be just as good or better than Jason.' Why would anyone fault me for wanting to do that?"
Safeties are having a hard time figuring out how to play Gathers. Now that he is getting the basics down and starting to assert himself, it’s putting those covering him in a bind.
"He's so big and strong that, if you press him, he'll throw you off of him," safety Kavon Frazier says. "But if you stay back, he'll box you out and catch it in front of you, just like he did in basketball."
Most fans are waiting for the return of Gathers from his concussion, but that likely won’t be against the Raiders. If things had gone a little different, the Cowboys might be preparing to play against Gathers as a member of the Raiders. Luckily that didn’t happen.