The Dallas Cowboys have made all of the necessary moves to finalize the 80-man roster for their 2020 training camp. Today we're going to look at that list by position and also briefly consider the various degrees of job security and contention for each player.
The team has already reported to Frisco for meetings, strength and conditioning work, and some clerical matters. Practices should begin in a little under two weeks, and padded practices about a week after that.
Part of the agreement between the NFL and players' union for adjusting to COVID-19 was lowering the roster limit from 90 to 80 players. With no preseason games to play and a shorter window between the start of camp and Week One, this was a reasonable concession.
Moves could still happen before the first practice. Dallas has a few players in reserve statuses that could rejoin the roster, or they might decide to swap out a few guys based on pre-camp cuts from other teams. But for the most part, these 80 players will be the Cowboys camp participants in 2020.
One clarifying note; players on the PUP list (Tyrone Crawford, Dontari Poe) count against the 80-man limit per CBA rules. They wouldn't count against the 53-man limit once the regular season starts, but they do for training camp. However, players on the reserve/COVID-19 list (Jon'Vea Johnson, Saivion Smith) do not count until they rejoin the team.
So let's summarize each position. As you look at the list, names are in bold or otherwise highlighted to indicate their projected status going into camp.
Bold – projected starter
Underlined – backup, lock to make roster
Plain – backup, likely to make roster
Italicized – roster hopeful/practice squad
Are we ready? Yes? Good. On we go!
- Dak Prescott
- Andy Dalton
- Ben DiNucci
- Clayton Thorson
There's no doubt who the starter and backup are for 2020. Prescott's playing on the franchise tag and Dalton received a $3 million contract to join the Cowboys for veteran depth. There's a good chance they could be the only two QBs on the roster this year if Dallas wants to go long at another position.
DiNucci and Thorson will battle it out for either the bottom of the depth chart or a spot on the practice squad. Thorson was on the squad last season for Dallas while DiNucci was just added with a 7th-round pick this year. The competition should be completely open between them
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Tony Pollard
- Darius Anderson
- Rico Dowdle
Much like the QB position, Dallas has a clear top two and the potential to not keep anyone beyond them. They only had Zeke and Pollard on the 2019 roster with FB Jamize Olawale and WR Tavon Austin offering emergency RB3 potential.
Darius Anderson and Rico Dowdle are both undrafted rookies hoping to at least make the practice squad. Anderson is more of a quick, receiving RB and offers kick return ability while Dowdle is a traditional three-down back. Unless one of them is particularly outstanding on special teams, there's probably nothing they can do to force their way onto the official roster unless Dallas is wanting to expand the depth chart in 2020.
[NOTE: The article was written prior to the news that Jamize Olawale would be opting out of the 2020 season.]
- Jamize Olawale
- Sewo Olonilua
We keep waiting to Olawale used in Dallas the way the Raiders did; taking advantage of his offensive skills. Mike McCarthy has a good history with fullback usage in Green Bay and will hopefully get more out of Jamize now.
Another undrafted rookie, Sewo Olonilua was a teammate of Darius Anderson's at TCU and offers some similar all-around traits as Olawale. He would be a younger and cheaper option, but need to show off a lot of skills to push the veteran out. One of Jamize's underrated uses is as a core special teams player; a key area for Sewo to shine if he wants to steal the job.
- Amari Cooper
- Michael Gallup
- CeeDee Lamb
- Cedrick Wilson
- Noah Brown
- Ventell Bryant
- Tevin Jones
- Aaron Parker
- Kendrick Rogers
- Devin Smith
Again, nothing to talk about up top. How the Cowboys divide targets between Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb will be an ongoing subplot throughout the season. What a great problem to have!
I think Cedrick Wilson is highly to make the team. On top of his potential as a receiver, Wilson is the front-runner to be the primary punt returner this year.
Beyond them it really is wide open. While names like Noah Brown and Devin Smith are more familiar to us, both have chronic health issues and haven't done much with their opportunities. They could easily be ousted by some of the fresher faces.
Dallas will likely keep two of the six players contending for jobs, and perhaps one more on the practice squad. I know I keep saying it, but special teams will be a critical factor for those fifth and sixth spots on the depth chart.
One name not list here is Jon'Vea Johnson; he is not on the 80-man roster at the moment due to being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Dallas will have to make a move if they want to let him rejoin the team once he clears the testing and quarantine protocols.
- Blake Jarwin
- Blake Bell
- Dalton Schultz
- Cole Hikutini
- Sean McKeon
- Charle Taumoepeau
The competition between Bell and Schultz to backup Jarwin could be more open than I think. But given the $1.7 million that Dallas gave Bell to sign in free agency, it sounds like they already see him as their TE2. Remember, he just helped Kansas City win a Super Bowl in that same role behind Travis Kelce.
If he's not really challenging Bell for the backup job, Schultz may have to watch his back with the other prospects. Hikutini has been in the NFL for a few years but McKeon and Taumoepeau are both undrafted rookies. If any of them flash potential, the new coaching staff won't have nearly as much grief over cutting Schultz as the last one.
Keeping a fourth TE this year is unlikely if Dallas goes with a fullback. If any of these players can show the ability to be a lead blocker from the backfield, which we've seen some tight ends do in the past here, then that might open the door.
- OT Tyron Smith
- G Connor Williams
- C Joe Looney
- G Zack Martin
- OT La'el Collins
- G Connor McGovern
- C Tyler Biadasz
- OT Cameron Erving
- OT Brandon Knight
- G Isaac Alarcon
- C Marcus Henry
- OT Mitch Hyatt
- OT Wyatt Miller
- C/G Adam Redmond
- OT Terrence Steele
- G Cody Wichmann
It's hard to break these positions up with so much versatility among the backups, so let's just knock it all out at once.
The only starters with 100% guarantees on their jobs are Collins, Martin, and Smith. The limited offseason process makes it easier for Williams and Looney to win starting jobs with their experience, but it wouldn't be a complete shocker to see either lose out.
This is especially true for Looney at center. If Tyler Biadasz or Connor McGovern has a great camp then Dallas may choose to let the younger guy, who will likely hold the job for years to come, go ahead and grow with the 1st-team offense immediately.
Cam Erving and Brandon Knight should fill out the depth chart. Erving, a former 1st-round pick, can play any spot on the line and is primarily here to compete as the swing tackle. Knight looked good playing right tackle last year and could also contend if he proves able to play the left side. He also has experience at guard which should help him make the roster.
Beyond these nine guys anything could happen. Dallas may not keep 10th offensive lineman at all given the versatility of their backups. If they do keep one more, Adam Redmond seems the most likely as an experienced backup at guard and center. Depending on how these younger prospects look in camp, though, there's high potential for surprises at final cuts.
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Tyrone Crawford (PUP)
- Aldon Smith
- Bradlee Anae
- Dorance Armstrong
- Ron'Dell Carter
- Ladarius Hamilton
- Joe Jackson
- Jalen Jelks
Crawford was put on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he's still recovering from offseason surgery on his hips. He is projected to start at DE as long as he returns in time and is in good enough shape to do so.
It may be a leap to call Aldon Smith a roster lock after his long layoff from football, but all reports indicate the highly-talented pass rusher is in tremendous shape and ready for a great comeback. Even if he has a disappointing season, it's hard to fathom him not making the roster.
I think Anae and Armstrong are likely to make it as backups. Anae is a 5th-round rookie who many feel could've gone much higher in the draft, and Armstrong is pure pass rusher that Dallas will likely need in their nickel and other pass-stopping schemes.
Joe Jackson is tough to put in the “hopeful” section but there are just only so many roster spots to go around. And if Randy Gregory gets reinstated sometime soon, that could be bad news for Anae or Armstrong's shot at making the team.
- Gerald McCoy
- Dontari Poe (PUP)
- Neville Gallimore
- Trysten Hill
- Antwaun Woods
- Justin Hamilton
Also starting camp on PUP will be the veteran Poe, who had quadriceps surgery during the offseason but should return soon. He projects as the starting 1-tech DT and/or nose tackle depending on formations.
As a 3rd-round pick this year, Gallimore would have to be atrocious in camp to not make the roster. He'll get more rope than Trysten Hill or Antwaun Woods, who are both going to be fighting for jobs after Dallas made big investments at the DT position between the veteran free agents and the draft.
If they're competing for the same roster spot, Woods could easily outshine Hill given his experience, proven worth, and versatility to play either DT position. But even with a new coaching staff, the Cowboys front office will have a hard time dumping a former 2nd-round pick in just his second season. This will be a good battle to watch.
- Sean Lee
- Jaylon Smith
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Joe Thomas
- Luke Gifford
- Justin March
- Francis Bernard
There's not much to discuss here, really. Five spots feel set with the starters and then Thomas and Gifford as backups. It will probably come down to a competition between March and Bernard for the last spot on the depth chart.
I may be giving Gifford a little too much benefit of the doubt but I'm just following the Cowboys' lead. He did enough in camp and one preseason game before getting injured that Dallas kept him on the active roster last year while recovering. There's a good chance he moves into Sean Lee's role as an occasional starter and primary backup in 2021.
The battle between March and Bernard will be simple; experience versus upside. Whoever is the better special teams player will likely win the job.
- Chidobe Awuzie
- Jourdan Lewis
- Anthony Brown
- Trevon Diggs
- Reggie Robinson
- Daryl Worley
- Deante Burton
- C.J. Goodwin
- Chris Westry
This is the most fascinating position on the entire roster. While I'm projecting Awuzie and Lewis as starters today given their experience, Diggs and Worley could be starting by Week One and I wouldn't be that surprised.
Who knows where some of these guys will ultimately land? Both Awuzie and Worley have been discussed as options at safety. The rookies should have solid roles but the limited offseason work could impact them early. Will Jourdan Lewis actually get more love from the new coaching staff than the last one?
C.J. Goodwin will have a tough time with the numbers crunch but was Dallas' best special teams player last season. He could force his way on if he's still a standout there, but we could see Reggie Robinson replace him in that capacity also.
Not listed here is Saivion Smith, a young prospect who had to be put on the reserve/COVID-19 list. As was explained with WR Jon'Vea Johnson, Smith doesn't current count against the roster limit until he clears protocols and potentially rejoins the team.
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
- Xavier Woods
- Darian Thompson
- Donovan Wilson
If none of the cornerbacks move to safety than this is an obvious quartet. But if Worley or Awuzie do end up here then they're probably knocking Thompson off the roster.
I'm not saying that Clinton-Dix and Woods are locked in starters, either. They probably will, but Donovan Wilson is a better fit physically for the traditional strong safety role than either of them. Maybe something surprising happens at the top of the depth chart, too.
- K Greg Zuerlein
- P Chris Jones
- LS L.P. Ladouceur
Dallas made this really easy yesterday by releasing kicker Kai Forbath and long-snapper Joe Fortunato. Unless anyone new gets added this month, there won't be competitions for any of these jobs.
It makes sense given the shortened training camp and cancelled preseason. With Zuerlein being a new addition, these three guys need as much work as they can get together building chemistry. Every practice rep will be valuable towards that goal.