I've been doing Cowboys roster projections for years now. It's a great exercise in deductive reasoning but also provides periodic snapshots of where you see the team throughout the offseason and preseason processes.
I like to get that first snapshot right after the draft. My next projection will come before training camp, reflecting all of the new information we've obtained from the May and June practices, any new free agent activity, and any losses of players due to injuries or suspensions.
Keep in mind that I am projecting the Cowboys' Week One roster. That means DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory won't be on the list due to their suspensions. I'm also leaving Lance Dunbar, Gavin Escobar, and rookie Jaylon Smith off with the expectation that they will begin the year on the PUP list.
QB: Tony Romo, Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott (3)
The only question mark here is Moore and it goes hand-in-hand with how the Cowboys see their ability to be competitive if Romo gets injured again. Is the veteran backup with no long-term future worth a roster spot?
Believing that Moore gives you a better chance to win isn't the entire argument. It matters, but even a better chance to win can still be a likelihood of losing. If Moore isn't significantly better than Prescott then Dallas may feel they're better off just riding with two quarterbacks, letting their developmental guy get more practice reps.
Despite his losing record and surplus of interceptions last year I think Moore is still valued in Dallas. After all, they stuck with him rather than chase some of the other veteran backup options in free agency. It's important to remember that he was signed last year after final cuts and didn't get any offseason work with his teammates. With Dallas seeing themselves as a contender, they will want as much security as possible at quarterback.
Seems pretty obvious, right? While this is the easy way to go it may be a bit superficial to assume Dallas will just hang on to McFadden after last year's events
McFadden can be released for about $2 million in cap room and very small amount of dead money. With only so many carries to go around and Elliott expected to be a full-time workhorse, is there much sense in keeping two veterans?
I think the Cowboys will show McFadden some loyalty after last year's performance and the obvious fondness that Jerry Jones has for him. Will that stick once Lance Dunbar comess off of the PUP list, though? Dallas could be faced with a tough choice if they have to make space for Dunbar. McFadden becomes a fairly easy and logical choice to release.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead (5)
Even if Williams and Butler are fighting for a spot the loser should remain on for depth. It would take a big leap for Devin Street to get back into this mix but even then I think he'd have to be better than Butler or Williams to find a job, I don't expect that.
If Dallas keeps six receivers it will be for a young prospect. Williams and Butler are both on expiring contracts so there's good reason to hang on to someone you like for the future. Whitehead should stay on for his return duties if nothing else, but I liked the way they were using him toward the end of last year. Lucky may end up filling in for the role that Dunbar will serve once activated.
The top two are obvious. Hanna got paid a lot of money to stay as a backup and may even become the primary backfield blocker if Dallas doesn't add any fullbacks before camp. Swaim is still relatively unknown but it the only other reserve with some experience.
Escobar's injury gives Dallas a nice opportunity to protect Gathers from the waiver wire. They spent the sixth-rounder on him because they feared having to compete with other teams in undrafted free agency. That same logic would apply to not wanting to risk another team stealing him off waivers or even off your practice squad.
When Escobar comes off PUP it will likely be Swaim who gets released, unless Gathers just hasn't shown the team enough to want to hang on. They also may be more comfortable at that point, in the middle of the season, try and sneak him to the practice squad.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Charles Brown (3)
Dallas re-signed Brown as a swing tackle option and don't seem to have much of an alternative. Maybe he gets cut by some other veteran addition around the end of the preseason but for now Brown's the guy. It would take a surprise leap from one of their young unknowns to supplant him.
The only way that Leary isn't here next year is if Dallas finds a trade partner, which can easily happen if other teams start having injury issues during training camp or preseason. For now he's set to be our primary backup at guard.
Chaz Green was drafted as a tackle but seems to have been moved to guard based on the resports I've seen. He got a slow start last year with injury but was a third-round pick and they'll try to work with him for at least another year or two to see what he has.
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
There is very little guaranteed money in Looney's deal so Dallas could part ways despite just signing him in March. Looney's best value is as a backup center but he also plays guard. He may not be as good as Mackenzy Bernadeau but is experienced and fills the same role.
ST: Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur (3)
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