Injuries and surprisingly good (or bad) early preseason performances can alter an NFL team's plans. Just ask Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. And things will continue to change after the upcoming third slate of preseason games, which many coaches consider a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Unless you're Bill Belichick.
Here's a look at some developments during the first couple of weeks of the preseason that could have ramifications on the 2016 season and beyond.
1. Dak dazzles
Dak Prescott has had a remarkable start to the preseason and it prompted Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to quickly end his search for a veteran backup quarterback to replace Kellen Moore, who suffered a potentially season-ending broken right leg earlier this month.
Prescott, a fourth-round pick this year, has completed 81.5 percent of his passes for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Prescott has more touchdowns (six -- four passing, two rushing) than incompletions (five).
Since Prescott's success has been against vanilla defenses, Jones could regret opting against getting an experienced signal caller if Tony Romo gets hurt again. Dallas' chances to repeat as NFC East champions last season were derailed by Romo's broken collarbone. The Cowboys were 1-11 without him.
2. Colin Kaepernick's comeback
Colin Kaepernick has had difficulty competing with Blaine Gabbert for the San Francisco 49ers quarterback job because of offseason rehab from multiple surgeries (knee, shoulder and thumb) and a "dead arm" that has kept him out of several practices and preseason game action. He is expected to make his preseason debut Friday night against the Green Bay Packers. Although Gabbert hasn't done much to distinguish himself, it's hard to imagine Kaepernick unseating him given there have been reports that he isn't the front office's preference to start.
Kaepernick's contract potentially could play a role in how he is handled if Gabbert starts. Releasing Kaepernick isn't an attractive option because his $11.9 million base salary is fully guaranteed. Kaepernick has per game active roster bonuses totaling $2 million ($125,000 per game). This per game amount is only payable if Kaepernick is on the 46-man active roster for that particular game.
As the season progresses, the Washington Redskins' treatment of Robert Griffin III last season could be a consideration provided Kaepernick remains a backup. RG3 was only on the game day active roster once largely because the Redskins didn't want to risk being on the hook for his scheduled $16.155 million injury guaranteed 2016 salary with him getting hurt. Kaepernick's $14.5 million 2017 base salary, which is already guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed next April 1.
3. Case Keenum's audition
Keenum could get a longer than expected opportunity to showcase himself to a quarterback-needy league because first-overall pick Jared Goff is a work in progress. Goff doesn't seem ready to start at the beginning of the season like last year's first two picks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. It's almost inevitable that Goff will supplant Keenum as the Los Angeles Rams' starting quarterback at some point this season.
Keenum, who was given the seldom-used first round restricted free agent tender ($3.635 million for 2016), could play himself into a position where he could find a compete for starting job situation in the open market next offseason. Top backup quarterback/compete to start money is currently $7 million to $7.5 million per year with incentives and salary escalators that could make a two or three year deal as much $12 million per year.
4. Eddie Lacy bounce-back
Lacy, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, seems to be putting his forgettable 2015 season behind him. He was overweight, eventually lost playing time and had a career worst 758 rushing yards. In much better shape, Lacy has rushed for 69 yards on 13 carries (5.3 yard average) with one touchdown so far.
Breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career would go a long way toward Lacy getting the lucrative second contract that sometimes eludes running backs. Chris Ivory and Lamar Miller signed long-term deals in the offseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, respectively, averaging in excess of $6.25 million per year.
5. Terrelle Pryor's transition
Pryor beating Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant deep for a 50-yard touchdown Thursday night was eye-opening. He is making tremendous strides in his transition from quarterback to wide receiver.
Pryor, a restricted free agent, is averaging a whopping 35.7 yards on his three receptions. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound speedster currently sits at the top of the Cleveland Browns' wide receiver depth chart with 15th-overall pick Corey Coleman while the recently reinstated Josh Gordon serves a four-game suspension. Pryor could be an intriguing player on the open market next offseason because of his size, speed and potential if his preseason success translates to the regular season.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick ripple effect
The prevailing view was Bryce Petty would be the odd man out after Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to the New York Jets on a one-year, $12 million deal right before training camp started since NFL teams rarely keep four quarterbacks. The league trend is to go with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster with a third on the practice squad. Rookie Christian Hackenberg is virtually assured of making the team despite not seeing any action in the Jets' first two preseason games. Second-round picks don't get cut that quickly.
Petty is making the decision to keep him or Geno Smith difficult after a strong performance in the second preseason game. The 2015 fourth-round pick threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns to post a 117.8 passer rating in the second half against the Redskins. If Petty can't unseat Smith, the better he does makes it less likely that the Jets could sneak him through waivers at the final roster cutdown and re-sign him to the practice squad. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Jets try to pull off a cutdown trade for either Petty or Smith like the Philadelphia Eagles did with Matt Barkley last year. The Arizona Cardinals gave up a conditional 2016 seventh-round pick to get him.
7. Marcell Dareus' contract guarantees
Dareus, who was suspended last week for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, is entering a rehab facility. Most NFL contracts contain language that voids remaining salary guarantees with any type of suspension. Andrew Luck and Von Miller, the NFL's highest-paid player and non-quarterback, have this type of language in their contracts.
The guarantees in Buffalo Bills contracts (Dareus, Cordy Glenn, Jerry Hughes Tyrod Taylor, etc.) don't void with suspensions for performance enhancing drugs or substance abuse violations. This may mean Buffalo could lose some flexibility with the six-year, $95.1 million contract extension (worth a maximum of $100.35 million through salary escalators) Dareus received last September because $25 million in 2016 through 2018 base salary guarantees could remain intact. The standard language also voids guarantees for refusing to play or practice with a team.
Buffalo attempting to wipe out Dareus' guarantees under this provision, especially because of rehab with the team's support, will surely trigger a grievance on his behalf from the NFLPA. It won't be a surprise if Buffalo starts insisting on the type of language Luck and Miller have with all future contracts. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore could be the first player affected since an extension before the start of regular season is a possibility.