As NFL trade deadline nears, Cowboys look like they’ve written off 2020. Yet they’re doubling down on Mike Nolan.

A season of promise and expectations has become a season of difficult decisions for the Dallas Cowboys. And the franchise is moving toward a pivotal one this week. It’s shaking up the defensive depth chart and signaling that the players — and not the coaching — are the problem.

The moves that are taking place now, including the trade of defensive end Everson Griffen and the release of defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley, reflect the beginnings of a roster retooling that will lean further into the scheme of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Here’s the Cowboys’ message to their players: If you’re a B-level or C-level contributor struggling in Nolan’s scheme and you have no long-term upside, the franchise won’t be spending additional snaps or dollars on you. Most especially if your walking papers send a blunt message to everyone left behind.

Something along the lines of, “This is where the program is going. Get on or get out.

Of course, there’s still no hiding the warts of this move. It isn’t the kind of thing a team usually kicks into motion when it’s trying to scratch out a playoff run. Franchises don’t just up and wave the white flag on a trio of veteran free agent acquisitions that they were solidly optimistic about a few months ago, even if the performance of those players landed on the spectrum of mediocre to bad (which is a generous assessment of that threesome). Even amid the struggles, to cut bait on three players only seven games into a season is suggestive that either a team is already preparing for 2021 or its front office badly miscalculated all three signings when it came to their fit in Nolan’s scheme.

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