The Dallas Cowboys may have had a disappointing 4-12 season in 2015, but next season they’ll have a distinct advantage over their NFC East opponents.
That’s because last week, the Cowboys became just the second NFL team to be granted authorization to fly a drone for the purposes of filming their practices.
In a sport where every single snap — in both practices and games — is filmed, finding new angles from which to record can give a team a distinct advantage. The Cowboys previously tried to use drones to film their practices in April, and head coach Jason Garrett noticed a difference almost immediately.
“The drone angle is interesting because it gives you a chance from behind to see all 11 guys on offense and all 11 guys on defense, but from a lower angle. Often times, you have to kind of pull yourself way away to get the all-22 shot. This allows you to be a little closer, so you can coach better,” Garrett said.
“You see hand placement, you see where they have their feet and where they have their eyes. I think that's important. You can look at the players and coach them better when you're that much closer to the action."
But in July, the FAA contacted the Cowboys, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots about their drone usage. Though no team faced fines of legislation, they were forced to ground their drones until they received clearance from the FAA.
Though the Tennessee Titans were the first team to receive a 333 Exemption from the FAA, the Cowboys received their clearance last week on Jan. 14. NFL Films has also received a 333 Exemption from the FAA.
While the Titans and Cowboys are currently the only teams to film practices using drones, The Verge reports that teams are still limited to using the aircraft during the daytime with a licensed pilot and not beyond the pilot’s line of sight.
Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.