IRVING — On the practice field this week, Cowboys front liners are preparing for the season opener against the Giants.
But there's a game before then. In Thursday's preseason finale, though, you won't see most starters, like quarterback Tony Romo or receiver Dez Bryant.
"For the most part, we're trying to give young guys one more time in a game situation and see if they're worthy of making our football team," explained Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
Great for evaluation and players trying to keep their NFL dream alive, but it's a stark contrast from the usual product we expect when NFL teams suit up. And don't forget: Fans going to the game pay full price to watch the backups try to not have their bubble burst.
If you're a fan and you've got a problem with games like the one Thursday night not including your team's best players, you've got a powerful ally — the league itself. The NFL knows this is one of those issues it needs to deal with.
The NFL says it's open to changing the number of preseason games. Commisioner Roger Goodell has noted fan complaints. "They see the preseason as being less valuable to them because they don't see the best players and the games do not count," he said. "We have to address that."
"I am empathetic to that whole situation," added Coach Garrett, a former backup quarterback who played in his share of games like Thursday's. "I understand what the league is trying to get accomplished there, and I would understand if it were restructured."
"Its the type of thing where it is what it is," said Cowboys veteran linebacker Ernie Sims. "Obviously, most of the players don't like it."
Most veteran players love the idea of having fewer preseason games — ones in which they could get hurt. But the league says that could mean 18 regular season games, an arrangement meaning more money, but also more wear and tear on players' bodies.
It's a tough sell in a league waging a public relations battle to convince fans that player safety is paramount.
So, reaching an agreement there may take time, but there is a consensus about veterans being about to get ready for the regular season with only two warm-up games.
"Anybody whose played in the league an extended period of time absolutely, there's no question," said quarterback Tony Romo. "I think there's a fine line between the young guys, the first and second year guys, and then the guys who are year five. There's no question the older guys could do it."
There's no telling how long it'll take, but there are seemingly enough football power brokers who agree the days of four and five preseason games can't end soon enough.