With nearly all 2020 offseason business done it's a good time to reflect on how the Dallas Cowboys have changed since last year. Today we're going to look at 20 players from the 2019 roster who are no longer with the team, ranking them by how much the Cowboys will feel their loss this season.
There are five players on this list who are still free agents: WR Tavon Austin, DE Michael Bennett, and LBs Malcolm Smith, Chris Covington, and Ray-Ray Armstrong. We are assuming that they won't be re-signed by the Cowboys this year but it's not impossible, especially with Austin or Bennett.
These rankings are based on two factors:
- How big a void did the departed player create?
- What did the Cowboys do to fill that void?
So with that in mind, let's dive right into the list.
20. LB Ray-Ray Armstrong
Armstrong was signed in Week 17 to fill out the roster after Leighton Vander Esch was placed on injured reserve. He was active but it was purely a one-week mercenary job to get through the Washington game.
19. CB Donovan Olumba
Many of us thought Olumba had nice potential as a cornerback but all he ever got in Dallas was two years on the practice squad. Dallas let him sign with the Browns this offseason, and perhaps he'll get a better opportunity with his next team the way Charvarius Ward and Terrance Mitchell have in recent seasons.
18. LB Chris Covington
A 6th-round pick in 2018, Covington only appeared in five games as a rookie on special teams and then spent much of 2019 on the practice squad. Dallas released him following the 2020 Draft and their addition of UDFA Francis Bernard. Between Bernard and Luke Gifford, Covington simply has been passed over by prospects with more perceived upside.
17. DT Daniel Ross
Ross put in a few years of backup work but unfortunately spent 2019 on injured reserve. The Cowboys have loaded up with defensive tackle this offseason so Ross would've been unlikely to make the roster again. He will feel right at home with many former teammates as a member of the Raiders in 2020.
16. QB Cooper Rush
After almost three years as Dallas' backup quarterback, Rush was dumped for veteran Andy Dalton. While we've been intrigued by Cooper's potential from some big preseason performances, he never got a chance to show his stuff in a real game. He has now followed Jason Garrett to the Giants.
15. LB Malcolm Smith
The former Super Bowl MVP signed with Dallas last year for two weeks after injuries rocked the linebacker position. He started in one game and showed he still had some play-making ability in this brief stint as a Cowboy. If Dallas were to experience more injury issues in 2020, they might wish they still had Smith on the roster.
14. DE Kerry Hyder
Hyder served a versatile backup with a one-year contract in 2019. He appeared in all 16 games and played all over the defensive line. Dallas hopes to have upgraded with their free agent moves in 2020, but Hyder was a solid reserve who could be missed if our risks end up being unrewarding.
13. S Kavon Frazier
One of the best humans to play for the Cowboys in recent memory, we'll remember Kavon more for his philanthropic efforts than what he did on the field. But Frazier was a solid special teams contributor and didn't get to show much at safety with Dallas' other options, despite sticking around for all four years of his rookie contract. He will join Byron Jones with the Miami Dolphins this season and hopefully get more opportunities.
12. G Xavier Su'a-Filo
While a limited pass blocker, Su'a-Filo was a useful backup guard who ended up starting for part of 2018 after Connor Williams was hurt. Xavier's experience edge served him well as he temporarily held the starting job even after Williams was healthy, but eventually the rookie retook his spot for the playoffs.
Xavier again had to step into a starting role when Connor suffered a season-ending injury in Week 13 of last season. He helped Dallas in their blowout win over the Rams in Week 15, but then was injured himself the following week.
While Su'a-Filo gave good value during his two years here, Dallas has some good options now to fill the void. One of Joe Looney or Connor McGovern will be a backup guard in 2020, and maybe both if Tyler Biadasz can claim the starting center job.
11. DT Christian Covington
Playing in all 16 games as starting six, Covington was a versatile and solid depth option for the Cowboys in 2019. He played on a 1-year contract and was able to cover both the 1-tech and 3-tech DT positions, which proved useful as Antwaun Woods missed six games last year.
Dallas filled out their defensive tackle depth by adding veterans Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe while also drafting Neville Gallimore. Assuming Woods and Trysten Hill are also on the roster next year, that mitigated the need to re-sign Covington this year. He has now joined the Denver Broncos.
10. DE Michael Bennett
Many were shocked when Dallas traded for Bennett last October given his outspokenness and our history with his brother. But the veteran provided immediate impact on the defensive line, playing both DE and DT, while also some needed fire and leadership in the locker room.
When Robert Quinn signed with the Bears in free agency it seemed the Cowboys might elect to re-sign Bennett. But with Tyrone Crawford coming back from injury and then the gambles taken on Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, Bennett wasn't as necessary anymore. It also hurt that his former coach from Seattle, Kris Richard, is no longer around.
Still, as mentioned before, Michael remains a free agent. Even without the Richard connection anymore, he may be a guy that Dallas keeps on speed dial if a need develops.
9. WR Tavon Austin
While he's never shown up as much on offense or in the return game as we'd have hoped these last two seasons, Tavon could still be competitive for both the WR4 position and KR/PR duties in 2020. Dallas may wish they had him depending on how their current prospects perform in the coming months.
A big factor in Austin's potential return to the Cowboys is the arrival of his former Special Teams Coordinator from the Rams, John Fassel. Considering that Fassel was on the same staff that shipped Tavon to Dallas during the 2019 offseason, he may not be keen on a reunion.
But WR depth is another area where Austin could help in 2020. We've yet to see any of Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson, or other prospects show up consistently when called upon. If that continues into camp and preseason play, Tavon may also be on Dallas' short lists for late free agent additions.
8. OT Cameron Fleming
Serving in the swing role the last two years, Fleming was an experienced player who probably could've been a starting right tackle for some NFL teams. He left in free agency to join the Giants and Dallas has yet to sign a clear replacement.
The Cowboys do have options, the most likely of which is veteran Cam Erving. The former 1st-round pick has played all over the offensive line and was the Chiefs' backup tackle last year. Another potential swing tackle is Brandon Knight, who started a game at RT last year when La'el Collins was hurt.
From 2018-2019, Fleming removed this question mark from Dallas' roster. He was reliable and will be missed if one of the replacement options doesn't step up.
7. S Jeff Heath
All in all, Heath is was more of a liability than a strength as a starting safety. But boy, did he have a way of putting together big plays in crucial moments. He was also a standout special teams player.
Dallas hopefully upgraded by signing veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He should take over the traditional coverage roles and allow hard-hitting Xavier Woods to do more work closer to the line of scrimmage. But Woods is on the small side for that role.
Jeff was not only a three-year starter but was also named as a team captain. Even if Clinton-Dix and Woods are a better combo on the field, will either provide the leadership and energy that Heath gave his teammates?
6. WR Randall Cobb
This would be a much bigger loss if Dallas hadn't spent their 1st-round pick on Ceedee Lamb. But even with that, Cobb left some decent-sized shoes to full.
Having the veteran around this year would've been especially nice given his familiarity with Mike McCarthy from Green Bay. But he got more money from the Houston Texans than Dallas was looking to pay.
Cobb was a reliable veteran who made a big impact in some games. He helped offset the waning receiver skills of Jason Witten and keep Dallas offense potent. He also was a capable starter when Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup missed time.
Lamb should cover those duties well. And if he's not the best choice to play out the slot, Cooper can move there easily. Dallas will still be able to run a league-leading offense without Randall Cobb, but he did great work during 2019 and will be missed.
5. DT Maliek Collins
Maliek was Dallas' most consistent defensive tackle during the four years of his rookie contract. It wasn't a high bar and he could be quiet many games, but he always contributed a few sacks each year and could play both spots.
The Cowboys are hoping that adding two veteran, former 1st-round picks in Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe will provide a long-needed DT upgrade. They also want to see young prospects Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore grow into meaningful roles.
That mix of experience and upside will hopefully produce at least the same level of play that Collins did. He was never spectacular and only occasionally stood out, but he helped the Cowboys make the playoffs twice and remain competitive for most of his time as a starter.
There is plenty of potential for Dallas to get better in 2020. But they could also miss Maliek's reliable presence if things don't go well. They're rolling the dice on riskier options this season.
4. TE Jason Witten
Nobody on this list has a greater Cowboys legacy than Witten, arguably the team's most significant individual player of the last 20 years. But while he would've been at the top of the list in past years, his waning offensive effectiveness makes the move to Blake Jarwin less impactful than it sounds on paper.
Jason was running with cinder blocks for feet last year and even before his one-year retirement. He was producing little-to-nothing once the ball was in his hands, and starting to pick up more penalties as a blocker.
While Blake Jarwin certainly won't be the leader that Witten was or has his same flawless technique as a route runner, his athletic potential is exciting. He will be able to hurt opposing teams a lot more with the open looks he'll get.
In a way, Witten's profile made defenses pay more attention to him. Jarwin may create more opportunities simply by not commanding the respect.
Still, even in his final years, Jason proved he could still get open and give Dak Prescott and escape route with the ball. Blake will need to add a lot more polish to his game if he wants to provide the same valuable option to his quarterback.
3. DE Robert Quinn
Needing to rehab his reputation after a few down years, the veteran pass rusher put up 11.5 sacks to lead the Cowboys last year. He parlayed that into a big, new contract from the Bears and leaves Dallas hoping that they'll find a way to replicate Quinn's production.
While they didn't want to spend the cap space to re-sign Robert or replace him with a guy like Jadeveon Clowney, Dallas is taking some big gambles with other options. They appear to be leaning on Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory and hoping their personal issues are behind them.
A fallback option is Tyrone Crawford, who's never excelled but can be a solid DE when needed. There are also young prospects such as Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, and rookie Bradlee Anae to work with.
There's even been talk that Gerald McCoy, who has slimmed down significantly from last year, could do some work at defensive end. The Cowboys still have DeMarcus Lawrence to set the foundation for the line and just need one of these guys, or a combination of them, to benefit from Tank's presence the way Quinn did.
Still, we have to wait and see if that happens. Robert Quinn wasn't some guy off the street; a former 1st-round pick and a true pass rusher who was great fit for our scheme. Dallas will be fortunate if one of their options is able to step up the way he did.
2. C Travis Frederick
This is easily the saddest loss on the list because it came from health issues over free agent movement. Travis announced his retirement in March and the Cowboys won't have anyone in 2020 who can match their All-Pro center's impact on the field.
That said, Frederick wasn't himself last year either. He admitted as much in his retirement announcement that he wasn't performing up to his own expectations.
Dallas has essentially been without the real Travis Frederick for two seasons. In 2018, Joe Looney was good enough for the Cowboys to make the playoffs. He's back to compete for the starting job this year.
Now Looney will have some competition for the role. Connor McGovern and Tyler Biadasz could take over thanks to their youth and upside. They just need to show Dallas they can handle the job well enough now to not be major liabilities.
Perhaps someday we will see one of those young guys in the Pro Bowl and being as great as Frederick once was. But it won't be in 2020, if ever, and being without Travis' presence and leadership up front will hurt Dallas this season.
1. CB Byron Jones
While the lack of interceptions kills him in public perception, Byron has been one of the league's top cornerbacks the last two seasons. It netted him a massive new contract with the Dolphins that Dallas wasn't willing to match.
The Cowboys spent a 2nd-round pick on Trevon Diggs and a 4th on Reggie Robinson to help bolster their CB depth, in addition to some budget moves in free agency. They still have Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis on the final years of their contracts as well.
Whetever Diggs and Robinson may become down the road, they certainly aren't equaling Byron Jones in 2020. It would be foolish to expect that from Awuzie or Lewis either given what we've seen from them the last three years.
Hopefully, the changes throughout Dallas' coaching staff and other parts of the defense will help mitigate the loss of Jones. Perhaps Mike Nolan will find better ways to help his cornerbacks with scheming, while more front-line help and adding Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety will give the CBs more opportunities to make plays.
Even if those things help, though, none of the Cowboys' current corners have the individual skill or polish of Byron Jones. And with the lack of offseason practice work due to COVID-19, his veteran presence will be missed more than ever in the early part of 2020.