Having battled one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks within NFL teams this season, the Dallas Cowboys have mostly seen their number of positive tests decline sharply over the past several weeks, but that doesn't mean they (or any team) is out of the woods as the NFL playoffs approach. To that point, they've now placed rookie phenom and Pro Bowl linebacker Micah Parsons in the team's COVID-19 protocols, the team announced, which kept him from practicing on Wednesday and painted a big red question mark on his availability for the regular-season rematch (and finale) against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night.
Parsons is vaccinated, a source tells CBS Sports, and has a chance to test out of the protocol this week, but the Cowboys have decided to sit him instead -- ruling him out altogether on Thursday, per head coach Mike McCarthy.
Parsons joins fellow linebacker Francis Bernard on the list with Bernard also continuing to rehab a groin injury. But the Cowboys got some good news concerning the unit with Keanu Neal's activation on Wednesday. Neal missed Week 17 versus the Arizona Cardinals following his second positive test of the season. In the event the Cowboys are without Parsons and Bernard against the Eagles, that currently leaves Neal, Luke Gifford and Leighton Vander Esch as the only three linebackers on the 53-man roster, and there is only one on the practice squad.
That would be Devante Bond, a former sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016 who signed with the Cowboys at the end of December. Barring another signing of some sort, and should Parsons be sidelined this weekend, it would force defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to get creative, something he isn't new to in 2021, and that could also include getting a look at defensive end Bradlee Anae with some linebacker reps, particularly considering they might also be without defensive back Jayron Kearse -- who is absent from practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
Kearse has been known to aid in the linebacker department at times but he must be available to do so. Mike McCarthy made it clear the Cowboys will be cautious with Kearse, and that might mean sitting him to ensure he suffers no setbacks ahead of Wild Card Weekend. Again, Parsons still has a chance to test out of the protocol ahead of Saturday, but the clock is ticking on his ability to do that and return to practice, considering the NFL's decision to flex the Cowboys fight with the Eagles from Sunday to Saturday evening.
The front-runner for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and one of the top candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, losing Parsons for even one game is a serious blow to the Cowboys' chances of victory. The rookie first-round pick has amassed a team-leading 13 sacks along with 84 combined tackles, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles in his first 16 starts, and will now no longer have a chance to set the league's all-time single-season rookie sack record.
He is expected to return for Super Wild Card Weekend, though.