From the moment the Dallas Cowboys selected Rico Gathers in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft, it was understood his development would be a project for America’s team. Gathers, who hadn’t played football since middle school, was Baylor’s all-time leader in rebounds and third overall in Big 12 history. Naturally, this led to widespread hope among Cowboys Nation that Rico could be the next Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham, college basketball players who would go on to star at the tight end position in the National Football League. Three years later, the Dallas Cowboys have decided to move on.
Despite showing flashes in the 2017 preseason, where he amassed 7 receptions for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Gathers never managed to put it all together in Dallas. According to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the consistency just wasn’t there for Rico. He could go out one day in practice and make a fantastic play, only to follow it up with a handful of lackluster or poor plays. These mistakes most commonly ranged from forgetting his blocking assignments to running poor routes, and in a sport where the margin for error is notoriously thin, such frequent mistakes can lead to disastrous results.
If the position was as simple as parking the 6’8 Gathers in the endzone and having him “post up” the smaller defender, Dallas wouldn’t have ended the experiment after three years. Gathers also would’ve recorded more than 3 catches and 45 yards to his resume by this point in all likelihood. Unfortunately for Rico, there’s more to the tight end position than that.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Dallas drafted tight end Dalton Schultz out of Stanford in the 4th round. This decision was due in large part to the sudden retirement of Cowboys great Jason Witten and would lead to Schultz pairing with Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim to nearly push Rico off the roster a year prior. Instead, Dallas elected to carry 4 tight ends into a season that would see each of Gathers’s peers shine at different times, leaving him noticeably behind. While Swaim would ultimately depart in free agency, Witten’s surprise return would leave Gathers’s future in further doubt.
Throughout Rico’s three years plus with the Cowboys, many waited to see him finally realize the potential he’d flashed briefly with Tony Romo in camp in 2016 and again in the 2017 preseason with Cooper Rush. That breakthrough would never come in a Cowboys uniform. Whether Gathers’ focus on his music career or a lack of dedication to the sport in general undermined his immense potential is anyone’s guess, but the optics certainly didn’t help when paired with stagnating development on the field. Whether Rico can go on to land with another team and make their 53 man roster is unclear, but after three years and plenty of looks, it’s hard to say the Cowboys made a mistake by ending the experiment.