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Cowboys stash: How injured reserve is used to help manage the roster

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It’s the third part of the team.

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Texans at Cowboys
Jon’Vea Johnson will get another offseason to work on his pass catching.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have set their initial 53 man roster, and signed ten players to their practice squad. There may be some significant changes to those by the time you read this as well, but we have been pretty focused on the process of getting to those 63 names; however, there is one other element used in managing the roster that is worth a look at. That is injured reserve.

Currently, the Cowboys have five players who were placed on injured reserve prior to the roster cuts, according to the roster at DallasCowboys.com:

  • Jalen Jelks
  • Jon’Vea Johnson
  • Daniel Ross
  • Chris Westry
  • Cody Wichman

According to Over the Cap, there are two other players who had previously been placed on IR for this season.

  • Lance Lenoir
  • Derrick Puni

Further, three players were waived/injured, which means they go on IR if they are not claimed. All cleared waivers and should be landing there.

  • Codey McElroy
  • Tyvis Powell
  • Jameill Showers

Noah Brown enters the season on the PUP list, which means he can be activated during the season without counting against the two IR’d players that are allowed to return.

Additionally there are two players currently on the 53-man roster are believed to be headed for IR soon, Connor McGovern and Luke Gifford. Both are thought to be candidates for return at some point, depending on needs and who else may be hurt during the season.

So most of these players are not going to be of use to the Cowboys this year, and at most two can eventually get on the 53. How is this managing the roster?

Injured reserve is all about looking forward

It is a play for the future, because most or all of these players will be part of next year’s 90-man offseason roster. Only Ross and Showers are in the last year of their contracts, and the team can sign them to new deals or, especially in Showers’ case, a futures contract. In essence, injured reserve is a way to get a jump on roster building with players the team already knows well.

Dallas could still release one or more of these players with an injury settlement so that putting them on IR does not lock the team in at all. Additionally, IR is a choice by the staff, not a requirement. In the case of someone like Jelks, the team may have deemed that he would be ready to go after a month or so, and just carried him on the 53 man roster, making him inactive until he was cleared.

That has been done before in many cases, but this year’s roster is one of the deepest in memory, and there was simply no reason to have to use a spot to carry an injured player for a while. Jelks is again a great example, as the DE room is already crowded with Robert Quinn due back from suspension and Randy Gregory still a tantalizing possibility.

Now, Jelks is protected and will, like the others, get another offseason to improve. Players on IR are of course not allowed to practice or do anything other than rehab work with the team. But that doesn’t stop them from doing work on their own as they heal. Johnson, for example, can spend all the time he wants with a Jugs machine to work on his ball skills. (I don’t know if there are restrictions on him doing that at the team facilities, but there are other places he can use one, and I would bet the team can tell him where all of them are.)

It is a bit of a running joke about how NFL teams use very minor injuries to stash players so they can have them available in the future. There is little doubt that this is a real thing. It may seem a bit like cheating, but if a team is not using this loophole in the rules, they aren’t trying hard enough.

Many of these players had traits or camp performances that had us interested in seeing how they could develop. Jelks is a draft pick, albeit a late one, so he also has that value to protect.

Showers is an interesting case. He has been a practice squad stalwart in the four years he has been with the team, playing a variety of positions on the scout team, and transitioning from quarterback to safety to be more useful. His PS eligibility is used up, but this move not only allows the team to get another offseason of utilizing him, it gives him a full salary for this year. That may be partly a way of paying him back for his contributions as well.

In any case, all of these players are assured of a full season as part of the organization, even if they won’t be out there working with the team. And they still have a shot at making the team down the road.