It’s an old aviation term. “Behind the curve” originated as a term to describe when you were in danger of losing control of an airplane due to mismanagement of your power, altitude, airspeed, and angle of attack. It has since become widely used for when someone is just not keeping up with things. For certain members of the Dallas Cowboys, this has become too apt for the position they find themselves in already. These are veteran players that are fairly safe bets to make the 53-man roster, but now, because of things they could or could not control, they should be worrying about what they have to do to catch up.
His is probably the most unsurprising name on this list. He is facing a double whammy. First, he is fighting injury. Then he just dug himself into a hole with his somewhat bizarre encounter with the police following his Lamborghini taking down a light pole. Add in that the wide receiver room looks a little crowded. If some of the new faces play well going forward, then Williams could be more expendable than his past performance would indicate. He is a good, if sometimes not great receiver, but if he is perceived as a headache by the staff, that may not be enough to protect him. After all, if Dez Bryant wasn’t safe, then no one really is.
When Jason Witten retired, many penciled Gathers in as the new TE1. Of course, that was never the actual case given his lack of experience and having missed all of last year. The comments on Wednesday by Jason Garrett lumping Gathers in with many rookies was another indication that the team has reservations about him even being ready to play this season. He is going to have to make some serious strides to make it onto the roster, especially as a blocker. This is his third year with the Cowboys, and he is certainly not where he should be. He was always something of an experiment, and that may soon be deemed a failure.
Irving is in the doghouse for being out of shape to start OTAs. This is reminiscent of the Mike Jenkins situation from several years back, when he started camp under a similar cloud. It was not too much longer before he moved on. Irving has a history of marching to the beat of a different accordion anyway (remember the lost nipple ring?) and the fact the team only went with a second-round tender to retain him this year indicates a bit of a lukewarm attitude towards him.
This probably seems a bit surprising. After all, in this entire list, Collins seems the most likely to keep his spot with the team. But he is still recovering from his own injury. Remember, this is a list of players that might not be on the 53-man roster, and if Collins’ recovery is slowed at all, he might not be ready to go, at least to open camp. That could make it hard for him to overtake other DTs that might have a good start. However, being a third-round pick may mean he would be more likely to be placed on PUP at the start of camp, then depending on his recovery (and how the rest of the DT group looks) he could be carried on IR to give him another shot next year. The way the team handled Gathers last year shows that they are not above gaming the system.
It must be noted that the situation with Irving complicates things a bit. It would be hard for the team to overcome the loss of two defensive tackles who have certainly been productive in the past couple of years. This might become an either/or situation, and both could make enough of a comeback to be on the team this season. Hopefully, Collins will come back from his injury and be ready early in camp, which will make this a moot point.
Unlike Irving and Williams, and similar to Collins, Tapper is the victim of circumstance. Injuries have cost him almost all of his first two years in the league, with only two games played so far. Now he has somehow suffered a concussion during non-contact drills. Hopefully he will come back from it and finally get a chance to deliver on his considerable athletic promise. But he just seems to be star-crossed. Any more injury concerns could be too much, especially with a large and very good-looking group of defensive ends to go up against.
At first glance, Looney might seem an unusual name to include here. He has only been with the team for two seasons, and was mostly a backup, although he was used in the jumbo package and was credited with three starts in games where the Cowboys ran that as their first offensive set. Still, he has been good enough to keep on a team that has been a bit in need of O line depth. But now he is having to sit out practices while he is rehabbing from wrist surgery. So far in OTAs, the plan seems to be to resurrect Chaz Green as a guard, and if he makes the roster, it could well be at Looney’s expense, especially with Marcus Martin having been added in free agency. None of that is really Looney’s fault. He is just caught in the uncertainty that dogs all players that are near the bottom of the ladder on an NFL roster.
Those are the veterans that face the biggest risks for the Cowboys. All have been with the team for two years or more, but all face challenges heading into this season. This year, Dallas has already shown that it is willing to cut just about anyone if it will help the team. It is a rough business. And sometimes players pay the price whether they really deserve to or not.