While it has been well-documented that the NFL’s television ratings were down in 2016, more people actually watched the league’s games last season than the previous year.
Hitchens’ injury could provide an unexpected opportunity for 2016 second-round pick Jaylon Smith, who missed all of last season due to nerve damage suffered in his knee at Notre Dame.
Smith started Dallas’ preseason game last week against the Colts, but he was back behind Hitchens on Saturday. Smith entered the game and recorded three tackles — one for loss — against the Raiders.
Justin Durant, who did not play Saturday, will also be in the running to start in the middle of Dallas’ defense should Hitchens’ injury prove to be as serious as currently feared.
Sean Lee, who is slated to start at weak-side linebacker, could also get some snaps in the middle, but he too has battled a litany of injuries throughout his career.
Hitchens has 220 tackles and 3.5 sacks through the first three seasons of his career. He developed into a reliable tackler last season, so his loss will be huge for the Cowboys.
Kalil spent most of 2016 on injured reserve and has never really lived up to his billing as a top draft pick, but the Panthers looked at the glass half full and went all-in on this five-year contract. If not for his status as a former top draft pick who played well early in his career, Kalil would have signed a one-year contract worth $7 million or less, as he would have been asked to prove he was worth more. Luckily for him, the Panthers don’t feel the need to have him prove it.Justin Durant