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Building a 2022 Cowboys Roster Using Only Current Contracts

Before we get into the thick of and draft talk over the next few months, one of my favorite exercises is seeing what the roster looks like using only currently contracted players for the upcoming season. If the had to go into a game without the benefit of the 2022 offseason, what would the team look like?

This exercise really helps to illustrate where the may focus its energy in the coming months. Who are the key veterans that Dallas will be looking to build around? Will departing free agents leave gaping holes on the roster or open the path for younger prospects to step into larger roles?

In some spots, like linebacker this year, there may not even be enough players under contract to even field a full unit. That tells you something right away about where the Cowboys may be conducting significant business in talent acquisition or retention.

If you see any “TBD” spots in these projections, that's because there's currently nobody signed for 2022 to fill those positions. But since we know they'll be need, they may as well be accounted for now in the math.

Quarterback (3)

Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier

This is one of the few spots on the roster where the Cowboys can breathe easy. gives them ample stability and leadership as the starter. Sure, he has room to improve. But the Cowboys are in no position to look for an upgrade and are committed to building around Dak for the next several seasons.

What's more, now we've finally seen Cooper Rush in real-game action. Rush's big win against the Vikings last year gives us proof that he can perform under pressure and is a capable backup. A competition between Rush and Will Grier for QB2 this offseason should yield someone that Dallas can feel good about, especially with Dak getting another year removed from his 2020 injury.

is even still around as a fourth body and camp arm. Dallas could certainly look at a new developmental player if they wanted, but there's no big need here to spend significant cap space or a high draft pick on a .

Running Back (3)

Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle

You already knew who the top two would be. Zeke's contract is prohibitive for at least one more season and Pollard is on the final year of his rookie deal. They're still one of the best one-two punched in the league and hopefully Elliott will be more effective in 2022 after healing from a partially torn knee ligament.

Dowdle would've been RB3 last year but got derailed by a hip injury. His proven skills and flashes of offensive ability are perfect for the role, so hopefully he makes a full recovery in 2022.

Fullback (1)

Nick Ralston

I would love to see the Cowboys make a FB a bigger part of the again. The run game has struggled since getting away from a true lead blocker and the may not be up to pre-2020 standards again for another year or two.

Assuming there is a fullback spot to be had, Nick Ralston and Sewo Olonilua will likely battle for it. I think Ralston makes more sense as a pure FB whereas Olonilua is a convert from RB, but that versatility could make Sewo more attractive. If either of these guys makes the roster, special teams play will be a critical component.

Unless there's going to be a major ideological shift in the presence of a fullback on the roster, I doubt Dallas spends any resources here in the offseason. They have two in-house candidates and will likely be content with that.

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Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb

Wide Receiver (5)

Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Simi Fehoko
T.J. Vasher, Brandon Smith

Yeah, this is where it starts getting ugly. With Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and Malik Turner all hitting free agency this year, Dallas will need to put in some work to either retain or restock talent at this critical position.

At this point, even Cooper's future with the team is up in the air. The Cowboys can save $16 million in much-needed cap space by cutting Amari but, as you can see, they're already woefully thin at receiver even if he stays.

It's scary enough to see the inexperienced Fehoko climbing into a top-three spot on the . But then having guys like Vasher and Smith appearing is when it becomes an untenable situation.

This will easily be one of the focal points of the offseason. Maybe Dallas release Cooper and tries to re-sign Gallup and Wilson for around the same amount of money; a two-for-one deal that gives the position a little more overall solvency. If Gallup and Wilson sign elsewhere, a move for a new WR3 and a premium draft pick at WR are both likely.

Tight End (3)

Blake Jarwin, Sean McKeon, Ian Bunting

is a free agent and could be very attractive on the open market. Will the Cowboys be willing to meet his price or are they content to go back to Jarwin as the starter?

Dallas' comfort level is Jarwin is the key question here. They were willing to hand him the job in 2020 and he only lost it due to a Week 1 injury. Schultz has been very productive but Blake could have arguably done the same work with the same targets. Will this be a time that Wally Pipp actually gets back into the starting lineup?

Sean McKeon could be an intriguing TE2 with his athleticism. We saw him catch a touchdown in the Thanksgiving game but his opportunities were slim last year; just six total targets in 2021. Only the coaches know how much they're ready to trust McKeon with a larger role.

has been a developmental project for numerous teams the last three years, spending 2021 on Dallas' practice squad and even getting called up for a game. He was a college teammate of McKeon's at Michigan and was primarily a blocker, which the role Dallas would need most from their TE3 this year.

Offensive Tackle (4)

Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
Terence Steele, Josh Ball

This looks decent on paper; two starters, a proven backup, and a 2021 4th-Round pick for depth. But there are still some big red flags at OT that the Cowboys may still need to address during the offseason.

The biggest issue is that Tyron Smith's absences have increased over the last two years and none of the other talent is suited to play left . Dallas had to keep sending 36-year-old out there because Steele couldn't handle that position, meaning we didn't really have a “swing tackle” last year.

Can Josh Ball help? He played left tackle at Marshall but ended up with a “redshirt” rookie season in Dallas following an ankle injury in camp. Maybe Ball can help backup Tyron, or even move into a true swing tackle role and save the team a roster spot.

But given the likelihood of Smith missing time again in 2022, having a reliable backup at left tackle is critical. It may force Dallas to make an external move.

Zack Martin
Cowboys G Zack Martin

Guard (4)

Zack Martin, Connor McGovern
Matt Farniok, Isaac Alarcon

We go to see for four games as the starting left when Dallas pulled due to his high number of . Williams eventually got the job back, which makes McGovern taking over in 2022 a scary proposition.

Depth may be okay with , who showed some positive signs in brief flashes, and third-year development prospect Isaac Alarcon. But ideally, Dallas will be looking for a better option as the starting LG and pushing McGovern into a versatile depth role.

Center (1)

Tyler Biadasz

The starting position seems covered with Biadasz as he enters just third year. He needs improvement but has a full offseason to hopefully grown and be stronger in 2022. Still, some wouldn't mind seeing an upgrade here as offensive line issues were the underrated killer for the Cowboys last season.

Backup center remains a question mark as neither McGovern or Farniok are really battle-tested for the job. Upgrading the starting spot would solve that issue, but at least there are a few guys already on the roster who can work at center in an emergency.

Defensive End (5)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Chauncey Golston, Tarell Basham
Backup TBD, Backup TBD

Clearly, there's much work to be done at . and Dorance Armstrong are free agents, potentially taking Dallas' best pass-rushing lineman and the best backup off the table for next year.

This instability is good news for Tank, who could give Dallas some cap relief if cut but making an already big hole at DE that much wider. It's more likely we'll see Lawrence get restructured for some cap savings and then perhaps have Dallas use the franchise tag on Gregory.

showed some intriguing skills as a rookie and is a great rotation piece. He's especially good in run support and could help save the pass rushers by taking more of the early-down snaps. Tarell Basham was decent in his rotation work last year but is a potential cap casualty with $1.75 million in relief.

Sure, could continue to see work as a pass rusher next year. But to preserve the superstar's versatility and unpredictable deployment, Dallas will need to add more talent to field a full DE group next year.

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Cowboys DT Neville Gallimore

Defensive Tackle (5)

Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, Trysten Hill
Quinton Bohanna, Austin Faoliu

Dallas has three young talents to compete at DT but they're all best-suited for the same job as the 3-tech tackle. It will likely come down to Gallimore or Odighizuwa as the starter and a healthy rotation of both throughout the season. Hill may not make the roster given his struggles the last three years and the $1.1 million in cap space Dallas could get back.

This proposed group still leaves the Cowboys concerned about their run . Quinton Bohanna is a big-bodied stuffer but is still very inexperienced. That's why on Saturday I discussed the potential of Brent Urban getting re-signed specifically for his work against the run.

While Dallas at least has enough bodies here, which is more than you can say for defensive end or linebacker, they likely won't be satisfied with just the in-house options.

Linebacker (6)

Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Devante Bond
Francis Bernard (ERFA), Backup TBD, Backup TBD

and Leighton Vander Esch are free agents and their returns to Dallas are completely up in the air. Vander Esch seems more likely after his strong play in December but it may have been too little, too late for the former 1st-Rounder.

Those veterans departing would leave Dallas grossly unmanned at linebacker. Micah Parsons can't do it all, much as he would try, and Jabril Cox only has promise and potential after an ACL injury cut his season short.

While Francis Bernard is not technically under contract for 2022 yet, being an Exclusive Rights Free Agent makes that a formality. Dallas can offer him a minimal deal an no team can match or compete, so Bernard will almost certainly get another year.

With practice-squadder Devante Bond the only other LB even on the roster right now, this is obviously a focal point for the Cowboys this offseason.

Cornerback (6)

Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, C.J. Goodwin

Anthony Brown is still technically under contract but I doubt that last much longer. The Cowboys have Joseph to step into a larger role and can save $5 million by releasing Brown in the last year of his deal. While Anthony had a career season in 2021, circumstances just don't look good for him this offseason.

Let's assume Brown gets cut. His spot could go to a prospect like Kyron Brown or Reggie Robinson, or perhaps a bargain-barrel deal with veteran Maurice Canady or some free agent. But no matter what happens with last year's starter, Dallas at least has a decent core with Diggs, Joseph and Lewis to turn to.

Still, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one significant addition comes from the offseason.

Donovan Wilson
Cowboys S

Safety (4)

Donovan Wilson, Darian Thompson
Israel Mukuamu, Tyler Coyle

Safety is a much bigger concern than cornerback. Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Damontae Kazee were all one-year mercenaries in 2021 and now Dallas has to decide who to bring back.

Kearse is obviously the biggest priority. He emerged as one of the team's best defenders last year and took over a leadership role. As long as he's not looking to cash in too heavily on that performance, Jayron should be back to at least keep the biggest piece of this puzzle in place.

Unfortunately, that would leave Kearse and Wilson as two guys best-suited for the same role as strong safeties. Dallas would still be in need for a rangy free safety and may wind up bringing back Hooker or Kazee for that spot. It's definitely too soon to hope for to step into that spot.

With Darian Thompson being a proven bust as a starter and Tyler Coyle just a practice squad guy, additional talent in the starting lineup and for depth are both needs here.

Special Teams (3)

K Greg Zuerlein, P Hunter Niswander
Long Snapper TBD

Last year's long snapper, Jake McQuaide, is a free agent and will likely be re-signed soon. Nobody else on the roster is currently suited to fill in so at least one roster spot has to be withheld for either McQuaide or his replacement to be added.

If Bryan Anger's Pro Bowl season makes him too expensive to re-sign as a free agent, Hunter Niswander may get his job back as punter. Niswander was adequate in 2020 and remains under contract now, making him an affordable Plan B if Anger wants too much to return.

For now, Zuerlein is still on the team but that will likely change before long. Dallas can clear nearly $2.5 million by releasing him and just signed a potential replacement in Chris Naggar last week.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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It’s just a depressing situation they’ve backed themselves into by giving out some elite level contracts to some inconsistently very good, but certainly not great or elite players.

Sadly, they’ll likely double-down and kick the can down the road by restructuring those bad contracts just to get under the cap and have enough left over to sign some lower level talent just to plug holes before the draft.

A name to watch as a McQuaide replacement is Jordan Silver out of Arkansas. If he goes undrafted, he’s roommates with Jerry’s grandson. Maybe he can nudge him our way. But, more than likely, Bones bangs the table to bring back his boy if he wants to play a 12th season.

I think with Quinn coming back as DC and his average play last season, that re-signing Keanu Neal at a reasonable price just became more likely than a Vander Esch reunion. Although, I would like to see them give Tyler Coyle a try at LB in Keanu’s role. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Gifford re-signed to a modest deal to backfill Vander Esch’s loss.

Carlos Watkins should be able to be re-signed at a reasonable price. If not, Justin Hamilton is a free agent again. I actually liked him at 1-tech just as much as Watkins and more than Bohanna.

They can do some shuffling on the OL to get the 5 best on the field in Smith (LT), Collins (LG), Biadasz (C), Martin (RG), and Steele (RT). That doesn’t fix the backup/long term LT issue, so that’s where I’d spend my 1st or 2nd rounder. I actually like Farniok at backup/future Center.

Free Safety is a problem. Tyler Coyle has the athleticism for the role, but not the instincts, experience, and/or intelligence for it. I was not at all impressed with Kazee or Hooker, and would only take either of them back on a very friendly deal. This is another draft priority, right behind LT.

Pre-free agency and Combine, my draft priorities are:
#1 – LT of the future. (Penning, Raimann, Petit-Frere, Rhyan)
#2 – FS of the present and future. (Daxton Hill, Cine, Brisker, Pitre, Harvell-Peel)
#3 – RDE/Rush OLB since Quinn seems to prefer the undersized DE’s or decent sized OLB’s on the right side. (Myjai Sanders, Mafe, Luketa)
#4 – LB that can play the middle. (Brandon Smith, Chenal, Damone Clark, Overshown, Sanborn)
#5 – LG as a hedge that La’el doesn’t give his all at LG.(Cade Mays, Spencer Burford, Andrew Vorhees, Lecitus Smith)
#6 – TE even though I like McKeon as a Schultz type player, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a predominantly blocking TE that can still work the open ares in the passing game to move the chains. (Greg Dulcich, Jelani Woods, Derrick Deese, Chase Allen)
#7 – RB that is more of a Zeke replacement than an afterthought. (Kennedy Brooks, T.J. Pledger, Brian Robinson, Dameon Pierce)

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