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Dallas needs to review the sunk cost fallacy before making roster decisions

It will take courage and recognition of sunk costs to pick the best 53 players for the Cowboys roster..

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

At this stage in the season, every new week means the Dallas Cowboys are getting closer to a 53-man roster. The team cut five players last Tuesday, and they will do the same on the 23rd. For now, the players on the chopping block are names that most expected would not contend for a spot.

But the difficult decisions will come on August 30th, when the Cowboys must narrow their squad from 80 to 53 players. There are a lot of directions that Dallas could go in constructing their roster to keep the best 53 names. However, fans have to hope that the team is dedicated to keeping the best players instead of clinging to false hope. And to do that, they need to study up on the sunk cost fallacy.

Dallas needs to review the sunk cost fallacy before making roster decisions

NFL: Dallas Cowboys vs Los Angeles Chargers Joint Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you are aware of the concept or not, sunk costs are everywhere.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

Think of the tickets to a concert you purchased a year ago. But when the time comes to attend the event, you are no longer interested in the band. “We have to go, we spent money on the tickets.” That is an example of the sunk cost fallacy.

You have already spent the money, and whether or not you attend, that money will never return to your bank account. The only thing to do is choose the option that best maximizes your happiness. In this case, that option would be not going to the concert.

This concept is incredibly common in the NFL. Sam Darnold started three years for the Jets despite there being times where it seemed like he didn’t even belong on a football field. The Jets refused to look elsewhere for a starting QB. But “of course Darnold should get a long leash. He was the third overall pick, they spent so much to get him.” The Jets were never going to get that draft pick back, regardless of who the starting QB was, so why not look elsewhere?

Whether Jerry Jones, Will McClay, and Mike McCarthy know it or not, they are staring down the barrel of making the same mistake during roster cuts. Because names like Kelvin Joseph, Trysten Hill, and Josh Ball are all players that could theoretically be off the team by August 31st. But they were all selected in the first four rounds, and Dallas can’t just cut a second-round pick from a year prior, right?

Well, if the player in question is not one of the best 53 players, then yes, they should. At this point, the Cowboys need to be willing to treat an undrafted free agent the same as a first-round pick. Those draft selections are spent. If Dallas made the wrong decision selecting a certain player, the Cowboys can’t just keep them around because it cost high draft capital to take them.

This is not an argument for the three names above to be cut. Josh Ball is contending for a very thin position, Trysten Hill has looked solid this preseason, and Kelvin Joseph played well during the 2021 regular season. But if any of these high-draft capital players fall outside the best 53 men, it would be a massive mistake to keep them.

And this extends beyond draft capital. Some other examples include: the Cowboys should not keep Noah Brown, C.J. Goodwin, or Luke Gifford simply because they paid them this offseason, and Simi Fehoko should not make the roster if the only reason is because “we have invested time into his development.” If the only justification for retaining a prospect is because of the team’s past behavior, that is the wrong move.

The clearest and most prevalent example of this is Nahshon Wright. The Cowboys invested a third-round pick in him. They tried to develop him last year, allowing Wright to work on special teams. But so far in the 2022 preseason, he has looked horrific. Some have said that he should be a shoo-in for a roster spot because he was a third-round pick one year ago.

That shouldn't matter. If the Cowboys decide to keep five CBs and he is not one of the best five, then there is no reason for him to make the roster. The goal that every team is working towards right now is to build the best roster possible, putting their squad in the best position to win the Super Bowl. Retaining players that you know do not improve the roster is actively hurting that goal. Draft capital, time, and offseason spending do not matter at all right now.

The only factors that should matter in personnel decisions should be current or future aspects of the player. Such as current cost savings if they are cut, their ability to help the team now, their potential to help the team down the road, and how much they could cost in the future. If the Cowboys pick the 53-man roster by only using criterion that affects the present and future, they will have succeeded.

The sunk cost fallacy can be boiled down to making the wrong decision because of a bad investment made in the past. Once again, this is not to say that Nahshon Wright, Trysten Hill, and Josh Ball are huge mistakes. But come August 30th, if the front office decides that they did make a mistake in drafting them, that realization should inform their decision in roster construction.

The 2022 Dallas Cowboys are a deep team. This is especially true for the secondary, defensive line, and offensive skill positions. But with a deep team means that roster decisions will be even more difficult. They will likely cut a player that eventually starts on another team. But the important part is that the sins of the past are washed clean before they make any decisions this year. Because if the Cowboys fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, it will only hurt the team down the road.

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