While players from the around the league file in to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Dallas Cowboys have mostly been spared. Although they've , neither were expected to be starters this coming season, namely undrafted rookie receiver Stephen Guidry and newly-signed veteran cornerback Maurice Canady. The team did lose its first definitive starter on Sunday though, with fullback Jamize Olawale notifying the club he would join Guidry and Canady as one of only three Cowboys to sit out this year, sources confirmed to CBS Sports.
Olawale landed in Dallas by way of Oakland, having been traded by the Raiders to the Cowboys in 2018 along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fifth-round pick that same year. While having shown promise as a possible offensive option in his time with the Raiders, his two seasons with the Cowboys have been the polar opposite -- marred mostly by two drops that would've been walk-in touchdowns in key situations. He has been a resolute special teams player, however, and head coach Mike McCarthy has never been coy about carrying fullbacks in his offense.
The latter point plasters a question mark on how McCarthy will handle the absence of Olawale. He can either throw all of his chips into bringing undrafted rookie Sewo Olonilua up to speed as quickly as possible in a preseason-less camp, or he could experiment with an offense that doesn't require a fullback at all, which might give offensive coordinator Kellen Moore more freedom to generate plays in space for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
If you didn't catch that hint, allow me to try again, this time throwing it with the passion of a Nolan Ryan fastball.
Going into 2020, the Cowboys truly have a chance to begin unleashing more two-halfback sets that utilize both Elliott and Pollard on the same play. As a first-year coordinator still learning the ropes (albeit in impressive fashion) and having to also learn how to best use Pollard in Year 1, Moore struggled to consistently field the rookie, often waxing and waning his snap count and targets over the course of the 2019 season. Having to factor in the use of Olawale played a part in the disruption(s), but with that being a non-issue in 2020 and Olonilua unlikely to instantly transcend from UDFA status to that of an NFL starter in only a matter of weeks -- and, again, without the benefit of preseason games to help aid in that cause -- it's a perfect time for Moore to get spicy with what could be a dynamic one-two punch in the Cowboys backfield.
In the instances where the team used the double halfback set last season, more often than not, it produced a gain in yardage. It's not difficult to see why -- considering how challenging it becomes for opposing linebackers to figure out if they should key in on Elliott or Pollard ahead of the snap. Add in some pre-snap motion/misdirection, and having both on the field at the same time truly does become nightmare material for defenses.
But wait, there's more, because once you toss in the wide receiver corps and tight end, the Cowboys could truly be faced with an embarrassment of riches.
While they've primarily been apt to operate with an 11 personnel setup (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), here's a chance to truly ramp up the 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) with Pollard taking the place of Olawale, which would put Elliott and Pollard on the field at the same time as a playmaking tight end in Blake Jarwin with either a WR duo of Amari Cooper plus Michael Gallup, Michael Gallup plus CeeDee Lamb or CeeDee Lamb plus Amari Cooper. Digging deeper for a set they never use but should and now have the opportunity to, the team could also begin unveiling the 20 personnel more often (2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3 WRs), allowing McCarthy and Moore to put Elliott and Pollard on the field with Cooper, Gallup and Lamb, and daring the defense to cover five skill players who can do serious damage.
It's hard enough to stop one nuke, and it gets no easier when there are five pointing at you, not counting yet another prove-it year for Dak Prescott -- the motivated two-time Pro Bowler tasked with turning the keys.
It's all something for the Cowboys to seriously mull in training camp and the regular season, and would be a fantastic heel turn from the more hyper-conservative era of Jason Garrett and (mostly) Scott Linehan. In comparing Pollard's potential to what Olawale brings to the table, you'll quickly note there is no comparison at all. The latter has seven career touchdowns and 644 career yards from scrimmage, but none of those touchdowns are on his resume with Dallas, and McCarthy can't truly miss a player he's yet to actually coach. Additionally, the veteran fullback has only 13 receiving yards to go along with zero rushing yards for the Cowboys, so his main contributions truly have been on special teams, making his opt-out seemingly more of a dent in the rebuild of special teams coordinator John Fassel than to the offense.
That said, the Cowboys did pick up the contract option on Olawale this offseason, which is clear evidence McCarthy and Moore did at least have some sort of plan for him. Olawale signed a three-year deal in 2019 worth $5.4 million, and stood to hit the Cowboys cap for $1.7 million in 2020. He will instead receive a $150,000 stipend and no accrued season toward his contract expiration.
And what McCarthy and Moore just received is a chance to consistently deliver a 40 burger -- extra cheese.