Could a Late Start to Training Camp Hurt the Dallas Cowboys?
Despite the fact that they and the New York Giants will be the first two NFL teams to open the 2012 NFL regular season, the Dallas Cowboys—per NFL rules—are forced to start training camp after all but one other team.
See, league rules stipulate that a team can't start training camp until 15 days before its first preseason game, and Dallas and Oakland are the last teams to start their exhibition schedules.
Because they're participating in the Hall of Fame Game, the Arizona Cardinals were in camp a full week ago. From the beginning of their camp to their first regular-season affair, they'll have 49 days of summer preparation under their belts.
Dallas will only have 38 days.
The Cowboys—and logic, you'd think—argue that training camp start dates should be based on the start of the regular season, not the preseason. Teams that start the exhibition season earlier than others don't require that much more prep time because starters and key contributors are held back early each August anyway.
The Giants, who play Dallas Sept. 5, were able to start their camp Friday based on the same policy, which the league office refused to alter despite the Cowboys making a formal request during the offseason.
Owner Jerry Jones, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, said the league failed to address the request, telling the team that more "pressing" concerns were taking precedent. And yes, this was a tumultuous offseason in professional football, but I believe a team faces at least a minor disadvantage when the rest of the teams in its division are getting what averages out to be a 6.3-day head start.
Does the late start put Dallas at a disadvantage?
Jones added that the team wouldn't use the short window (pardon the word choice) as an excuse, which is exactly what he has to say.
That said, this marks the second time the Cowboys have fallen victim to questionable league rulings or policies this offseason. The team also took a $10-million cap hit for not complying with non-binding and seemingly unofficial orders to collude against the players during the uncapped 2010 season.
If there are gaps separating the Cowboys and Giants or Cowboys and Eagles, they're tiny. In a division like this, any edge could dramatically alter the way these teams rank come January.
On the flip side, you could of course argue that less time on the practice field means fewer opportunities to suffer injuries, and it's not as though every NFL team hasn't had a thorough chance to brace for action all offseason.
Important players have been dropping like flies all around the NFC East, and the Cowboys have dodged such misfortune due to the fact that they've yet to go through a padded practice.
I fully expect the league will change policies and use regular-season openers as the landmarks for training camp launch days. But by then, it'll be too late for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys.
Many will try to draw conclusions, but regardless of what Dallas ends up doing this season, it'll be impossible to know if a shorter-than-usual gap between the start of camp and the start of the season played a role.
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