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Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was asked Monday about the possibility that starting right guard Zack Martin could come off the Reserve/COVID list in time to suit up against Tampa Bay on Thursday night. The coach left the door cracked, albeit ever so slightly.
Team owner, eternal optimist, and consummate salesman Jerry Jones, though, lives in that crack: where everything will magically work out simply because it would be a better story if it did.
The two men are saying the same thing about the All-Pro’s status. It just sounds very different depending on who says it.
“I would say he’s as close to being out as you can possibly rule out,” McCarthy told reporters during a pre-practice news press conference Monday. “There’s a protocol, so we’ll follow protocol for the game.”
The protocol says that Martin, as a vaccinated player displaying actual COVID symptoms, would first have to go symptom-free for 48 hours. Then he would have to receive two negative tests 24 hours apart.
And all of that has to happen before Martin can even get on the plane to Tampa.
Do the math. Even if Martin woke up completely symptom-free on Monday, time has already come awfully close to running out.
But there is, technically speaking, still a chance. And that’s all Jerry Jones needs to make a few waves.
Appearing on ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Cowboys legend Michael Irvin, Jones started by stating the seriousness of the team losing its best player in Martin, continued by praising the play of Martin’s replacement in Connor McGovern, and then went right into speculating about Martin’s sudden recovery… all in the same sentence.
“You can tell I’m talking myself into it,” the 78-year-old owner admitted, “because this is unfortunate. Working real hard. I’m still the guy that wants… he’s going to be tested right up until gametime. Maybe we can get a couple of negative tests out of him. I’m always looking for that pony in there somewhere.”
With that oddly-placed pony-racing reference, Jones was ready to switch topics. In fact, he had started to move on when Irvin asked him to hold his horses and definitively confirm there was a chance Martin could play in the season opener.
“Well, if he can test two negatives,” Jones said. “If he can get two negatives in the next couple of days, then he could play.”
And then, perhaps realizing he had oversold something he knows deep down won’t be delivered, Jones backtracked on the spin job.
“Don’t hold out for that. Don’t hold out for that.”
And then he quickly segued to the joke he had been trying to make all along, a diss on noted Cowboys-hater Smith.
While the headlines will trumpet that Jones thinks Martin might play Thursday- and technically speaking, he still could– what Jones actually said shows that he, along with everybody else in the organization, assumes he won’t.
“It’s disappointing, but you can’t harp on it, can’t let it be more than what it is,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said per ESPN’s Todd Archer. “I mean, definitely going to miss him, definitely wish he was out there, but we still have a game to go play, and we’ve got to try and get the job done.”
Elliott. McCarthy. Even Jones. They all sound resigned to Martin sitting out.
But until it’s made official, Cowboys fans can continue to cling to a faint glimmer of hope. Jerry Jones has become a master at selling those.
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