Fewer than 24 hours have passed since the Dallas Cowboys’ season opener in Tampa.
But already, the team is facing a reality in which two of its offensive starters will be unavailable for the immediate future.
Wide receiver Michael Gallup, who exited the 31-29 loss early, suffered a calf strain, a person with knowledge of the injury confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the information.
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy declined to discuss the nature of the injury but did confirm Gallup would miss the Cowboys’ Week 2 game vs. the Chargers with a “multiweek injury.”
And Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins has been suspended the next five games without pay for violation of the league’s policy on substances of abuse, an NFL spokesperson confirmed.
NFL agent Peter Schaffer, representing Collins in the matter, said his client’s appeal remains ongoing.
“We are extremely disappointed in how the NFL has handled this entire matter from trampling on Mr. Collins’ rights to prematurely releasing the information knowing a timely appeal was filed to intentionally misleading the court at the hearing,” Schaffer said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “The extent and effort the NFL went to to accomplish its ends is appalling.”
Collins’ suspension stems from a series of 2020 tests the tackle allegedly missed, each of which Schaffer says his client has provided explanation for. But the 2020 update to the league’s policy on substances of abuse mandates fines, not suspensions, as discipline for “unexcused failure to appear for testing” for players in Stage Two of the program. Suspensions are applicable not for failures to appear but for “failure to cooperate with testing or clinical care.”
Collins’ timeline positions him to be eligible to return to Dallas’ active roster on Oct. 18, following the Cowboys’ visit to the New England Patriots.
Dallas enters a bye week then. So, barring a change in his appeal process, Collins’ next chance at action would not come until an Oct. 31 game at Minnesota.
The Cowboys will face the Chargers, Eagles, Panthers, Giants and Patriots without him.
Collins’ absence has become common.
Collins missed the entire 2020 NFL season after undergoing hip surgery. During training camp in recent weeks, he missed practices with stingers in his neck. Collins returned to practice in the days preceding the season opener and played every snap the offense spent on the field – a total of 83 downs.
Collins and Cowboys starting left tackle Tyron Smith had not shared the field since Dec. 22, 2019. Start the clock again.
The Cowboys were without six-time Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin in Tampa after Martin, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19. He experienced mild symptoms and was not cleared from league protocol in time to play. Third-year offensive lineman Connor McGovern replaced Martin.
Coaches have said McGovern is more comfortable on the right side of the line than the left, where he battled Connor Williams for snaps at left guard. McGovern said earlier in the week that he is comfortable at all five spots along the line and embraces the chance to contribute to the team versatilely.
With Martin expected to return against the Chargers, Cowboys coaches may need to decide: Do they prefer Martin at his elite right guard spot, with McGovern or backup tackle Ty Nsehke at right tackle? Or will they opt for their best five linemen on the field, kicking Martin out to tackle and leaving McGovern at guard?
Martin played at right tackle last year as the Cowboys offensive line was decimated. He thrived in spite of the hasty position change but has indicated he strongly prefers to stay at guard.
Follow USA Today Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein