The history of the NFL is full of guys whose talent and opportunities could’ve led to big things but whose bodies ultimately sabotaged their dreams. If running back Rico Dowdle dreamt of becoming a regular cast member in the Dallas Cowboys’ offense, the last few years of injuries may have closed the door.
Dowdle joined the Cowboys in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina. Thanks mostly to his special teams work both as a kick returner and on coverage units, Dowdle forced his way onto the roster behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. He was active for 15 games, contributing a 64-yard kickoff return but never really getting into the mix on offense.
Thanks to another strong preseason and his ongoing value to Jim Fassel, Dowdle appeared a lock to make the team again in 2021. But a hip fracture suffered in the preseason put him on season-ending injured reserve. Dowdle would return in 2022 but missed time in OTAs following a knee scope.
Still, the Cowboys thought highly enough of Dowdle that he was invited to their 2022 training camp. And once again, despite the potential flashed by Malik Davis during the preseason, Dowdle’s special teams value pushed him ahead in the competition and onto the roster.
Unfortunately, Dowdle’s third season would only last five games as an ankle injury once landed him back on IR. While he could have returned at some point during the second half of the season, Dallas stuck with Malik Davis as the backup and kept Dowdle on IR the rest of the way.
As Jerry Jones has said in recent years, availability is one of the most important traits for any NFL player. Talent is meaningless if you’re in street clothes on Sundays.
Dowdle’s inability to stay healthy and able to play may finally do him in this offseason. His three-year rookie contract is up and now Davis has staked his own claim to the backup role. With KaVontae Turpin also firmly entrenched now as the return specialist, Dowdle’s versatility doesn’t help his stock like it used to.
While Dowdle is a restricted free agent, having only played three years, Dallas certainly isn’t going to give him the lowest tender of $2.6 million or anything higher to retain his services. Given the reliability issues now stuck to Dowdle, even the $1.01 million veteran minimum salary could be too rich for the Cowboys.
That said, chaos is a ladder and Dallas could be facing some this offseason. Ezekiel Elliott’s potential as a cap casualty and Tony Pollard’s free agency are two of the team’s biggest stories right now. Could the Cowboys be interested in re-signing Dowdle simply as insurance against issues bringing back one or both of the primary duo?
If not for the injuries, Dowdle might very well be part of the strategy in moving on from Zeke, Pollard, or both. Who knows what he might have done the last two seasons to raise his stock and, like Davis, have us thinking he could perhaps step into at least the RB2 position in 2023?
If Rico Dowdle does somehow make it back for a fourth training camp with the Cowboys, it will be a much different scenario than he’s enjoyed the last two years. The backup job has been his to lose the last two years, but now he’d be in a fight with Malik Davis just to make the roster. But that fight may never happen if Dallas decides that Dowdle, who turns 25 this June, is now too much of a liability.