The Dallas Cowboys have undergone a significant youth movement these last few years. Will that trend continue in 2019, perhaps causing some of our veteran players to lose their roster spots to younger prospects?
We already saw Wide Receiver Allen Hurns get the boot a few days ago, with $5 million in salary cap savings the major reason for the decision. Cap relief could be a major factor for some other players on the team right now as well.
Let's start with one who may come as a bit of a surprise.
Jeff Heath, S
Even if Heath were to lose his starting spot to free agent addition George Iloka, it's generally assumed that he'd still be on the team as a versatile, experienced backup and special teams ace. But this is situation where money could force the Cowboys' hand.
Jeff counts $2.95 million against the 2019 cap. If released, Dallas gets back $2.5 million in relief.
With contract extensions being talked about for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones, every bit of cap space helps. Could the Cowboys decide that Heath is too expensive for a backup role?
Dallas has some young options at safety in Kavon Frazier, Darian Thompson, and Donovan Wilson. Thompson actually started all 16 games for the Giants in 2017, so the Cowboys could be comfortable with him as their primary backup.
Of course, Heath may not losing his starting job at all. Iloka still has to come in and take it from him, but we expect an open competition that he has a very good shot at winning.
Ideally, Dallas would hang on to Jeff Heath this year even as a reserve. But with several younger, cheaper players behind him, it may be hard to justify come decision time.
Tavon Austin, WR
Money won't be the issue if Austin gets cuts. He only counts $1.3 million against the 2019 cap as is, and cutting him saves just $820k of that.
Tavon's concern are the roster limits, 46 active players on game days and 53 players overall. Can he offer enough value to justify being part of the team?
Rookie RB Tony Pollard will be a major factor in Austin's survival. He was a standout kick returner in college and has the receiving skills to steal Tavon's offensive looks.
Dallas could easily keep both of them on the 53, as security against each other, but could both be active for games? Pollard certainly will be as the backup RB, but Austin may not have much work at WR anymore.
The Cowboys would likely love to have both of them for security, and especially if Austin is the better punt returner. But roster math may not allow for it, and Tavon's only hope at that point will be that Pollard is too much of a rookie to be trusted.
Tyrone Crawford, DL
I've written more about Tyrone Crawford's bad contract and the need to shed it the last few years than probably most other Cowboys topics. I was surprised he made it through the offseason, but I still think Dallas could dump him before the regular season.
Crawford counts a whopping $10.1 million against the 2019 cap. Dallas can get back $7 million of that this year if he's released, which is more than they saved by cutting Allen Hurns. It's a big chunk of change to go towards the aforementioned contract extensions for star players.
Also hurting Crawford's job security is his lack of a clearly defined role this year. Dallas has loaded up on talent at both DE and DT, mitigating the need for Tyrone's versatility.
Ideally, DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are your starting defensive ends. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods should start at tackle, leaving Crawford as a very overpriced backup.
I think Dallas has held on to Tyrone so far to protect themselves against injuries to those four players. But if we get to final cuts and everyone is on track to play Week One, Crawford just seems too expensive for the limited role he'd now have.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, G
While he was a solid performer in his eight starts last year, Su'a-Filo now faces the numbers crunch with Travis Frederick's return and the drafting of Connor McGovern. It may not allow the Cowboys to keep him in 2019.
With Connor Williams the clear starter at left guard now and Joe Looney dropping back into a reserve role, Su'a-Filo is hoping that Dallas won't trust the rookie McGovern to play this year. But that seems unlikely given the 3rd-round pick the Cowboys spent to acquire him.
Xavier's best shot at making the team might be if a team tries to pick up Joe Looney in a trade. Looney could be a starting center somewhere in the NFL, and that would open up a roster spot.
But even that scenario doesn't guarantee anything for Su'a-Filo. He would need for McGovern to prove himself as a backup center, otherwise Dallas might have to keep Adam Redmond for that role and still push Xavier off the roster.
Maybe Dallas could move Su'a-Filo to a team who needs some depth at guard. But it's looking difficult for him to stick around here in 2019 given the current numbers.
Chris Jones, P
Jones has been here since 2011 and been one of the top strategic punters in the game, limiting returns with his directional accuracy. But he just turned 30 this month, and had a down year in 2018 with his overall efficiency.
Dallas has Kasey Redfern here right now as a backup. He likely won't be more than a camp leg, but we thought the same thing about Brett Maher last year. It was shocking when Dan Bailey wound up being part of final cuts, but his poor season in Minnesota proved the Cowboys knew what they were doing.
Dallas could save $1.8 million by cutting Jones but about $500k of that would go to Redfern as the replacement. Still, that's $1.3 million to go towards other financial goals.
I doubt anything happens here. Jones is still a capable punter and is the holder on field goals, which he's handled very well for some time now. Keeping that chemistry intact between Jones and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur is important for Brett Maher's success at kicker this year.
Still, surprising things can happen. It certainly did last year with Dan Bailey, so we can't be certain about Chris Jones at punter in 2019.
Taco Charlton Isn’t Going Anywhere After Strong Preseason Week 3
Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Taco Charlton might be turning things around. The former first round draft pick didn't have a great couple of seasons to start his career off, which forced him to be in a battle to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster this offseason. Three weeks into the preseason, it looks like he's a lock to make the team. In a "Dress Rehearsal" game that went great for the Cowboys, Charlton's performance was among the best players.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the Cowboys' younger defensive ends could force the team to move on from Taco. From Dorance Armstrong to Jalen Jelks, there's a handful of promising players that were participating in a positional battle that one way or another, included Taco Charlton.
However, the Michigan product showed up to play versus the Los Angeles Rams with two passes batted down. Despite making such plays, we still hadn't seen much from him in the pass rush department.
That changed against the Houston Texans last Saturday when he managed to get two sacks (one strip-sack), two forced fumbles and a recovery. This was undoubtedly Taco's best game in his career. He still has a lot to prove, but it was definitely good to see him have a "breakout" preseason game.
With such performance, it doesn't seem like he'll be going anywhere in 2019. Charlton won't be a starter for this team, but he could become a very important rotational piece for Rod Marinelli's defense. He has a great opportunity to find playing time during the first two weeks of the season before Robert Quinn returns from suspension.
One unfortunate note was that in his best game yet, Taco went out injured twice (ankle). The first time he went back to the field to get some more but had to walk off the field for a second time. Hopefully, he's able to play next Thursday but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't after having a breakout game versus the Texans.
Taco Charlton still has a very long way to justify being a first-round pick, but his play against Houston was a start. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in the 2019 regular season. He'll have to fight for playing time and he'll have to make every snap count to turn his career around.
Cowboys’ Taryn Christion Gets Time at QB; More Coming?
Last night was the first time we've seen Taryn Christion, the Dallas Cowboys' fourth quarterback on the current depth chart, actually playing the position in preseason. Could we see more of Christion at QB in this Thursday's finale, and at what point should Mike White be worried?
Signed just a few days before training camp began, Christion has been tried at running back, receiver, and various special teams units while the Cowboys were in Oxnard. But last week he started getting more time at quarterback, and last night's win over the Houston Texans saw him playing a few drives at QB to close the game out.
Sure, Taryn came in fourth behind White in the rotation. But that Dallas thought to give him reps in that game, the critical dress rehearsal game, is telling.
Jason Garrett doesn't get cute with rotations and playing time. He's old school, and there's meaning in every decision he makes about when and how guys get time in preseason.
Ironically, the decision came following Mike White's best preseason game this year. He went 6-of-9 for 56 yards and a touchdown, plus avoided any sacks or turnovers.
Rather than let White keep building on that, though, Dallas pulled him for Taryn Christion in the 4th quarter. It seemed as if the Cowboys were determined to get him some time at QB.
An even better showcase will come this Thursday night. The Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final preseason game; we know Dak Prescott won't be playing, and the team may even protect Cooper Rush with limited time on the field.
Dallas likely intends to give Christion some significant playing time on Thursday. And to help make that easier, they played him last night to get some of those butterflies out of his system.
No, Taryn Christion probably isn't going to make the 53-man roster. Neither is Mike White, for that matter. It feels like the battle for the number-three QB is more about the practice squad now.
But whatever the case, the battle seems to be heating up. Dallas appears more invested in Christion now as a quarterback than at any other point since he arrived; some added intrigue for Thursday's final preseason game.
HOU 0, DAL 34: Defense Dominates in Dress Rehearsal Game
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have scripted a better result in tonight's dress rehearsal game against the Houston Texans. All three phases of the game made big plays as they dominated 34 to 0.
The night belonged to the defense as they terrorized Houston's starters and reserves along the offensive line with 8 sacks. Taco Charlton, a former first-round pick turned outcast was the star of the night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In my opinion, if there were any doubts about him making the roster he put them to bed tonight.
Kerry Hyder showed once again why he's one of the smartest free-agent signings of 2019. After being a lost man in the 3-4 defensive scheme with his former team the Lions, he's done a really good job applying pressure even though he hadn't recorded any sacks in the first two preseason games. However, tonight he recorded 2 sacks and reminded everyone of the player who had 8 sacks in 2016.
The young guys weren't to be left out in this defensive clinic. Dorance Armstrong, Trysten Hill, Daniel Wise, and Joe Jackson all had half sacks. Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson had one of the plays of the night with a beautiful interception as he tapped both feet before heading out of bounds. Cornerback C.J. Goodwin, who will probably make the roster on his special teams ability, got in on the interception party himself high pointing a contested pass.
Dak Prescott was only 2 for 5 (11 for 14 in the preseason) but managed to escape what looked like a sure sack and roll to his left and threw a rope to Michael Gallup for a touchdown. The two have shown a lot of growth and chemistry during training camp, something that was missing at times in 2018.
Wide Receiver Devin Smith had 6 receptions for 79 yards while Cedrick Wilson snagged 3 passes on 4 targets. Both receivers are fighting for the final roster spots in the receiver group which they'll have to continue to do next week against the Buccaneers.
Tight End Marcus Lucas had a very solid game with 4 catches for 50 yards. He will definitely be a player to watch in the final preseason game before final cuts are made. Cooper Rush went 15 for 25 and further solidified his position as the primary backup to Prescott. Mike White was also solid going 6 for 9 and tossing a touchdown.
Special teams got in on the action themselves when Linebacker Joe Thomas recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Now the Cowboys have only one more preseason game before the 2019 season begins. All that's left now is figuring out the last few roster spots and staying as healthy as possible. September 8th is right around the corner.
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