Micah Parsons doesn’t need to come off the field this season unless he’s tired or hurt.
End of discussion.
Parsons played 51 snaps (78% of Dallas’ defensive plays) in the Cowboys’ 31-29 loss to Tampa Bay last week.
He should play as close to 100% of the defensive snaps as possible Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Dan Quinn should know that, but if for some reason he doesn’t, then head coach Mike McCarthy should tell him. And if McCarthy can’t figure it out, then Will McClay, Stephen Jones or Jerry Jones should make the point clear.
The youngster, the 12th pick of the NFL draft who covers 40 yards in 4.39 seconds despite weighing 245 pounds, is the epitome of a three-down linebacker.
That means Leighton Vander Esch (14 snaps) and Jaylon Smith (16 snaps) will play even less.
The die has already been cast for each of those players whether you deem it fair or not. Neither played well last season for whatever reason, and the organization has mentally already moved on.
We know they’re backups no matter how reluctant the coaches and front office seem to be to say it.
The Cowboys like Vander Esch, who was second-team All-Pro as a rookie, but don’t trust his health, which is why he didn’t get his fifth-year option picked up. The “Wolf Hunter” will be a free agent at the end of this season after missing 13 games the past two years.
Smith, who made the Pro Bowl just two years ago, isn’t nearly as bad as his critics believe he is, but he’s not a difference-maker either. He’s a solid NFL player who will probably play 10 seasons, but he’s a one-dimensional player -- a downhill run-stopper -- in a league built on versatility and athleticism these days.
Neither Vander Esch nor Smith should be taking snaps away from Parsons. The NFL has never been more of a young player’s league than it is now.
Smith is 26 years old and Vander Esch is just 25, but Parsons is only 22.
He has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline, and the size and athleticism to cover the elite tight ends that proliferate today’s NFL. He can also rush the passer and be stout against the run.
That’s why he should never come off the field.
He had seven tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection in his debut against Tampa. He also learned that the best quarterbacks in the league like Tom Brady can complete passes even when their receivers are covered.
No worries, it’s one more reason why he should never come off the field.
Each snap is literally a learning experience for Parsons, who opted out of his senior season at Penn State because of the pandemic. Mentally, he’s still a developing player who hasn’t really played all that much football.
Every snap he plays right now will make him a better player in December, when the NFC East will be determined. The Cowboys play Washington twice and the New York Giants in December.
Parsons has a weekly one-on-one meeting with Quinn where they go over his various packages and assignments. Quinn loves Parsons’ versatility, which is why he wants to use Parsons in a variety of ways.
The way he gets better as a pass-rusher, a run-stopper and in coverage is by playing every snap, learning the nuances of the game during those snaps and improving on a weekly basis.
The Cowboys needed defensive playmakers in the worst way. Parsons, a favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, has the skill set to be that guy.
All he needs is experience, which is why he should never come off the field.
Parsons has his own one-on-one.
Jean-Jacques Taylor, a former SportsDay columnist, is the host of JaM Session Podcast which can be heard Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.