NFL coaches love to tell you that competition happens at every spot on the roster every day. But we all know that some players' job security is better than others, and today we're going to look at five Dallas Cowboys who face major fights to remain with the team in 2022.
Every player would love to waltz into this season with the same sense of security as Zack Martin, Micah Parsons, or Dak Prescott when it comes to their spot with the Cowboys. But with 90 players currently signed and only a little over half of those eventually making the official roster, life is very different for the majority.
Some guys should feel especially threatened. It could be due to an expiring contract, an imbalanced salary cap hit, or just having gone too long without making a contribution or inspiring hope for the future.
Here are five of the more significant names who may very well not be on the 53-man roster by September.
G Connor McGovern
McGovern is entering his fourth season and, despite ample opportunities, has yet to push his way into a starting role. While he has value as a versatile backup, Dallas may decide it's simply time to move on to newer prospects.
A 3rd-round pick in 2019, Connor spent his rookie year on IR with a pectoral injury. Over the last two seasons he's started in 14 games and played in others thanks to a few Zack Martin absences, but more importantly due to issues with former left guard Connor Williams.
Dallas gave McGovern a chance at starting LG last year when Williams was the most-penalized player in football. Unfortunately, McGovern's performance over four games was lacking and the team went back to Williams for their final four games and the playoffs.
That failed attempt at starting could be McGovern's undoing now. It already motivated the Cowboys to draft Tyler Smith as their new left guard rather than give Connor another opportunity. And with fresh faces like Matt Farniok and Alec Lindstrom competing for backup spots at guard and center, McGovern is going to have to be substantially superior as a reserve option to fight them off.
Plus, with Connor in the final year of his rookie deal, Dallas can get back $2.5 million on the salary cap if he doesn't make the 2022 roster. That's just another hurdle for McGovern to overcome in convincing the team to keep him around.
DT Trysten Hill
The 2019 draft class is well represented in this article. Unlike their classmate Tony Pollard, guys like Hill, McGovern, and Donovan Wilson have yet to prove they deserve a fourth season with the Cowboys. And in the case of Trysten, he may not have a spot anywhere in the NFL this year.
While only a 2nd-round pick in 2019 Hill has faced 1st-round scrutiny since his arrival to Dallas. He was the team's first selection in that draft after they traded their 1st-rounder to the Raiders for WR Amari Cooper the year before.
But while expectations for Hill may have been a little too high, the performance of recent 3rd-round defensive tackles Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa have now made Trysten an afterthought at the position. In fact, Hill making the roster in 2022 would be a huge surprise based on current projections.
Most soured on Hill after a disappointing rookie season in which he fell out of favor with the coaches for poor work ethic. The staff turnover in 2020 seemed to be good for Trysten and had him making noise during camp and early in the season, but a torn ACL in Week 5 ended his comeback campaign quickly. Trysten did not return until the middle of last season and was buried on the depth chart behind Gallimore, Odighizuwa, and Carlos Watkins.
It's not impossible that Trysten Hill could force his way back into roster consideration. But based on the last three years and what we know today, it would be one of the more dramatic turnarounds in recent Cowboys history. The team is far more likely cut their losses and move on.
CB/ST C.J. Goodwin
It may seem sacrilegious to question Goodwin's spot on the team after his last few years as one of the NFL's best special teamers. But with C.J. now 32 years old and having no real value on defense, keeping his roster spot won't be that easy.
The general rule of thumb in roster decisions is that special teams value is critical to holding a spot at the bottom of the depth chart. Goodwin has taken that to another level the last few years; a guy kept around solely for special teams while having no meaningful role as a backup at his official position.
C.J. has been worth it for his work as a gunner and trick-play artist the last three years. But at 32 and with $1.5 million in potential cap relief hanging over him, Goodwin will be up against all of the younger and cheaper options to hold onto his spot for another season.
The Cowboys have been adding a lot of athletic specimens in recent drafts. If guys like Nahshon Wright, Israel Mukuamu, DaRon Bland, or Markquese Bell can prove themselves on special teams then it may give Dallas enough confidence to let Goodwin go and open a roster spot for someone with more versatility.
S Donovan Wilson
Also repping the Class of 2019, Wilson didn't enter the league with the same expectations as Day 2 picks like Trysten Hill and Connor McGovern. He started to look like late-round gem at the end of 2020 and entered last season as the starting strong safety. But after getting leapfrogged on the depth chart by Jayron Kearse, Donovan is now stuck in a backup role and threatened by younger prospects.
Despite only entering his fourth NFL season Wilson is already 27 years old. He's at least four years older than other safeties Israel Mukuamu, Tyler Coyle, and Markquese Bell.
Age won't be an issue if Wilson is clearly the best reserve of the bunch. With Kearse expected to play a hybrid LB role in certain packages, the primary backup safety could still see some playing time in general rotation and depending on schemes.
But there are multiple ways to handle that need. Malik Hooker can play either safety spot, meaning a rangier player like Mukuamu could come in to play “free.” Again, Wilson is going to have to show he's too good to discard.
Money could also come into play here with nearly $1 million saved by cutting Donovan. Dallas loves their cap rollover dollars and will happily create some if they like their other prospects enough.
DEs Tarell Basham & Dante Fowler
Okay, so let's make it six players. It's hard to separate Basham and Fowler in this discussion as they seem very much in the same boat and likely fighting for the same roster spot.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Chauncey Golston; those guys are locks to make the team in 2022. Throw in Micah Parsons' pass-rushing duties and it's hard to see why Dallas would keep six defensive ends on the official roster.
Basham and Fowler offer comparable amounts of $1.75 million and $1.9 million in cap relief if released. That negligible financial disparity means that it should come down to pure merit in terms of which of them sticks around after final cuts.
It might be easy to defer to Dante Fowler as the bigger name and a newly-signed free agent. But those don't really give him an edge over a returning player like Basham. If anything, Tarell getting a second year in the system could be a major advantage.
Fowler has worked with Dan Quinn before in Atlanta and was likely brought in at his behest. But the former 1st-round pick will have to earn his spot convincingly after Basham put in solid work last year in a rotation role.
Of course, injuries could quickly change the landscape and allow both players to make it. But if all of the other DEs stay healthy, Basham and Fowler will likely find themselves in one of the more direct one-on-one showdowns for a roster spot in 2022.