Five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode was a healthy scratch from Saturday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, putting his future with the team in doubt.
He could be traded, released or asked to take a salary cut.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called it a business decision born out of coach Jason Garrett’s philosophy of creating competition and playing the best players.
The impressive emergence of second-year lineman Phil Costa has given the Cowboys a cheaper alternative to Gurode, prompting the Cowboys to make the unique decision of allowing a business decision to overshadow Saturday’s 23-17 win over the Vikings in what was supposed to be the dress rehearsal for the season.
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But with Costa out until the season opener with a sprained knee, the move also put third stringer Kevin Kowalski into the lineup protecting quarterback Tony Romo in what would be two-plus quarters of work against the Vikings first-team defense.
At first glance, at least, Kowalski was up to the task. Romo was sharp, completing 15 of 20 passes for 141 yards. He was sacked once.
The defense proved to be the bigger concern, giving up 216 yards in the first half, including a 49-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Bernard Berrian. It was also gashed on the ground for 81 yards on 14 carries by Adrian Peterson for the game.
But business came first and foremost for Jones. Gurode, who made the trip to Minneapolis, is scheduled to make a $5.5 million base salary and count $7.2 million against the salary cap. If he’s traded or released, he will count $1.6 million against cap this season and $1.6 million next year.
Jones didn’t want to risk injury to Gurode that would limit their options.
"I didn’t want to have anything nicked out here to create any issue relative to what we have talked about," Jones said. "He’s healthy. This is the time to talk. There are alternatives for us there. So we can sit down and talk about it and see what we might work out."
Jones didn’t want to put a timetable on a decision, but said he wanted to have a quick resolution.
Gurode’s agent, Kennard McGuire, acknowledged via text that he has had preliminary talks with the Cowboys.
"I will keep the details of my conversation private that we had with Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones," McGuire said. "There are a few things that both sides are discussing."
There is no question that Jones is comfortable with Costa playing in place of Gurode at center. Costa worked with the first team for the first three weeks of camp until Gurode returned from off-season knee surgery. The two split snaps with the first team for the past two weeks until Costa was injured in practice Wednesday. Jones is very confident he will back for the season opener.
"Gurode got pushed," Jones said. "That is very positive for our team."
The Cowboys certainly didn’t appear to miss Gurode in the first half against the Vikings.
Romo was able to get receiver Dez Bryant involved on a consistent basis for the first time all preseason. Bryant had five catches for 67 yards in the first half as he proved to be a physical mismatch for the Vikings cornerbacks.
Bryant and Romo were most impressive on an 11-play, 77 yard touchdown drive. Bryant caught three passes for 41 yards. Romo was 6 of 9 for 68 yards on the drive, including a big third-down conversion to Jesse Holley. Running back Felix Jones got the capper on a 5-yard touchdown run.
It should be noted that the drive was set up by an interception. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh hauled in a McNabb pass tipped by defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Sensabaugh set up the only other Cowboys touchdown of the first half with a blocked field goal that was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Alan Ball.
The defense, under new coordinator Rob Ryan, had little else to be excited about. It has given up 30 points on nine possessions in the preseason. Against the Vikings, it showed the same shortcomings that made it not only one of the worst units in the league last year but also in team history.
The Cowboys' inability to stop the run and propensity to give up the big play was all on the display on the first touchdown drive of the game. Peterson gashed them for 29 yards on five carries, setting up the 49-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Berrian, who split Sensabaugh and fellow safety Abram Elam for the score.
"On the interception, the guys did a good job of covering, and it was a tipped ball up in the air,” Sensabaugh said. “I just tried to sprint to the ball and make the catch and secure the ball.
"The blocked field goal, they had me jumping over the center. It was pretty good to get one in the game and give our team some momentum.
"I gave up a big one early in the first drive. I was trying to make a play, but I got double-moved. I just tried to respond back from that, make a play and keep on rolling."