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Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Final Edition

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Final Edition 2

Another year, another preseason… and another final 53-man roster projection.

The Cowboys’ road through August has been arduous, thanks in large part to the injury to Tony Romo. This and other factors have left plenty of uncertainty about how the Week One roster will look. But we’ll do the best we can.

One major factor to consider going forward is the active 46-man gameday roster. Each week, seven guys won’t be able to put on a uniform and play. That plays a big part in deciding who you want to carry on the bottom of the roster. Depth is only so valuable if a guy is in street clothes.

We will discuss that and all other factors as we work our way to the magic number. So, without further ado and in honor of the late Gene Wilder…

“Yes? Good? ON WE GO!”

QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott, Free Agent TBD (3)

CHANGES: Added “Free Agent”

The debate rages on; do you put Romo on Injured Reserve or do you leave him on the roster to start the year? I wrote about this extensively yesterday.

Cowboys Headlines - The Dak Prescott Hype: Why It's Completely Okay To Buy In 1I don’t think this staff will be able to pull the trigger on sending Romo to IR. The week he’d be eligible to play is Week 9 if he’s recalled from the injured list. The possibility that Romo could come back sooner is too big for Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett to take off table.

Dak Prescott may get hurt. He may also fall apart when the games really matter. We have uncertainty on two fronts; Prescott’s performance and Romo’s recovery. All the grey area means Dallas will probably try to keep as many options open as they can.

Keeping Romo on the active roster means costing someone else a spot, of course. However, that’s someone who probably wasn’t going to dress on game days anyway. The value of keeping some extra tight end or running back, over preserving your options with Tony Romo, just doesn’t add up.

Dallas’ flirtation with Austin Davis, who may still wind up here before it’s all said an done, also tells us that they’re not ready to live with Jameil Showers as Dak’s immediate backup. Nothing about last night’s game helped Showers’ case. He has intriguing tools but is still too inexperienced to be effective.

I anticipate Davis, or some other guy who gets cut over the next two days, will be here and serving as the number-two quarterback during Romo’s recovery. Showers will return to the practice squad.

RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson (3)

CHANGES: Removed Lance Dunbar

Cowboys Headlines - Lance Dunbar Officially Cleared To Return To PracticeCutting both Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden is a bold move, but the more I look at it the more I can’t deny it.

McFadden is easy. Elliott walks in as the new feature back and Morris has proven that he’s probably a better fit for our offense than McFadden ever was. At that point, and with $2 million in cap space to be saved, there’s just not reason to keep McFadden around.

Dunbar is probably the toughest from any position, but hear me out. His role in the offense has been mitigated with the additions of Elliott and Darius Jackson, who both have good hands and speed.

Lucky Whitehead has also shown that he can be used in the kind of plays that Dunbar was getting early last year. With all of these options, plus Dunbar’s proneness to injury, there just isn’t enough value to keep him.

FB: Keith Smith (1)

CHANGES: None

Keith has proven to be a better blocker than Rod Smith, and that’s ultimately what this position is about. He also gives you additional value as a special teams player and emergency linebacker.

I still think Dallas may drop him for a more experienced or natural fullback from other team’s cuts, but for now Keith Smith’s the guy.

WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance WilliamsCole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)

CHANGES: None

This quintet has never been in doubt. The only question has been if some other prospect would force the Cowboys to want to keep six, but nobody emerged from the pack.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Final Edition 1TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers (4)

CHANGES: Removed Austin Traylor

Remember, James Hanna will start the year on the PUP list. He is recovering from a minor knee surgery.

This is a spot where the 46-man gameday roster factors into things. I looked back last year and, usually the fourth TE did not dress.

Unless Dallas cuts or trades Escobar they have their top three with him, Witten, and Swaim. It’s not worth keeping Traylor on the roster if he’s not in uniform. He’s more ready to play than Gathers right now, but the roster spot isn’t worth much in that scenario.

On the other hand, Gathers remains an intriguing physical specimen who you don’t want to risk losing off your practice squad. It makes more sense to protect him with one of your inactive roster spots than carry Traylor.

OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Free Agent TBD (4)

CHANGES: Added “Free Agent”

Ideally, Green will continue to develop and you can eventually cut the fourth guy. However, after some shaky preseason play from Green, Dallas will likely want some additional security from a veteran.

G: Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Ron Leary (3)
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)

CHANGES: None

Unless somebody is ready to give Dallas a good trade for Leary, this group is locked in. If Leary were to get moved then Dallas would probably look for a new veteran guard in free agency. None of their young prospects seem ready.

~ ~ ~

Just to quickly recap, we’ve used 25 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. Your biggest questions marks are:

  • QB: Romo to IR or not?
  • RB: What’s Dunbar really worth?
  • TE: Traylor vs. Gathers

Cowboys Headlines - Spending on Defensive End is a MUST 2So, let’s move on to the defense.

DE: Benson Mayowa, David Irving
Jack Crawford, Ryan Russell
Charles Tapper, Free Agent TBD (6)

CHANGES: Added “Free Agent”

The starters during DeMarcus’ Lawrence four-week suspension should be Mayowa and then one of either Crawford or Irving. With how much they rotate guys on the defensive line, the starting job doesn’t matter too much anyways.

Having missed a lot of time with a nagging back issue, rookie Charles Tapper may not be able to contribute much early only. Thankfully, linebacker Kyle Wilber can line up as a pass rusher in some packages. Dallas could also be adding help from the outside.

With Dallas having just cleared a lot of cap room by restructuring Orlando Scandrick’s contract, there’s a theory that they may be opening things up to add a big name pass rusher. Taking someone off waivers does mean absorbing part of their contract, so they could be creating flexibility to add anyone they want from cap casualties around the league.

Randy Gregory‘s future is cloudy. As far as we know he’s still in rehab and the NFL has yet to announce anything beyond the original four-game suspension. For now, he won’t count on the roster and we can only wait and see if he will make any contribution in 2016.

DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins (4)

CHANGES: None

This is as good a DT rotation as they’ve had in some time. Both McClain and Thornton are better than Nick Hayden ever was. If Collins can catch up from missed time during the summer, this group will be deep and explosive.

Cowboys Headlines - Rumor: Cowboys Talking Reunion with Justin Durant

AP Photo/Brandon Wade

LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar
Mark Nzeocha, Damien Wilson (6)

CHANGES: Removed Justin Durant

The toughest cut on defense, Durant’s return to Dallas will be short lived. For now, at least.

Dallas could always bring Durant back after Week 1 and not have to guarantee his contract. He was on the street before joining the Cowboys a few weeks ago, so there probably isn’t much fear of another team scooping him up.

What’s more, Durant apparently hasn’t been the same guy. He’s two years older and, turning 31 this month, it’s showing. Dallas may rather just go with their young prospects anyway.

Six linebackers is a little thin but you do have Keith Smith, who converted from linebacker to fullback this year.

CB: Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown (5)

CHANGES: None

Last night wasn’t pretty for Olatoye but his total body of work is still too good to ignore. He and Brown provide adequate depth.

Between his punt returning and some flashes on defense, Dax Swanson has earned some fans. I don’t see him pushing his way onto the roster but I think he’s a lock for the practice squad.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Final EditionS: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)

CHANGES: None

One of the biggest positives to come out of the preseason finale was Krazier’s play. While we already figured J.J. Wilcox was a goner, the encouraging performance from the rookie only makes the decision easier. Dallas will save about $1.7 million cap space by releasing Wilcox.

ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)

CHANGES: None

Arguably the best trio of specialists in the NFL.

~ ~ ~

So, there are your 53 players for the Week One roster. As a bonus, here are the 10 guys who I think could wind up on the practice squad:

  1. Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys Sophomores: QB Jameill Showers 1QB – Jameil Showers
  2. RB – Rod Smith
  3. WR – Andy Jones
  4. TE – Austin Traylor
  5. T – Ryan Mack
  6. C – Jake Brendel
  7. DE – Mike McAdoo
  8. DT – Rodney Coe
  9. LB – Derek Akunne
  10. CB – Dax Swanson

Obviously, this list could change greatly as the Cowboys look to add talent from roster cuts throughout the league. The 53-man roster could also be impacted, and not just at the “TBD” positions.

Just stay connected with Inside the Star! We’ll bring you all of the updates and analysis at the Cowboys finalize their roster and get ready for season opener!

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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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2 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    Jess good job and I don’t really disagree with anything you said. I’m glad somebody else thinks Dunbar’s time is up and I hope they can find a trade partner for McFadden. Dunbar is fragile and we can fill the job he does with Zeke and Jackson. I do think they will try to trade Escobar as there are teams in need of TE help. That will allow them to keep Traylor who I think has a place on this team.

    • http://www.PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      Thanks as always, Randy! Always enjoy your comments.

      The Dunbar cut is one that most people don’t make if they’re just taking a cursory look at this, or if they get too hung up on loyalty. But when you break it all down as we did, it’s hard to argue the logic.

      I was very hesitant to put Escobar on the 53 for the reason you said. i think they’ll move him for sure if they can get something decent back. The question will be if they’re ready to cut a second-round pick who hasn’t really been given the chance to prove what he can or can’t to. That’s tough for coaches/GMs to swallow.

Dallas Cowboys

DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys

Mauricio Rodriguez

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DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

For Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, it was now or never. With an expiring rookie contract, it was time for him to make a name for himself. Between injuries and a suspension, Lawrence wasn’t close to being a great player before 2017. He accounted for eight sacks in 2015 and only one in 2016.

However, last season he was finally able to get double-digit numbers by sacking opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times. Lawrence also had 36 tackles and four forced fumbles. Not only was he a very good pass rusher, but he also became a great run defender.

Simply put, DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence went from an average player to one of the NFL’s best defensive ends in 2017.

It seems like finally, after years of waiting, the Dallas Cowboys have found their “War Daddy.” But, as is always the case for the Cowboys, there’s a problem. DeMarcus Lawrence needs to be paid in order for him to stay. With number 90 ready to hit free agency, the Cowboys’ front office has a choice to make.

They can give him the big multi-year contract he wants, they can tag him, or the Cowboys can watch him walk out the front door and thrive somewhere else in the league.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Scott Cunningham / Getty Images)

There’s a problem with giving him a big-time contract though. Lawrence had a great 2017 season, but before that, he hadn’t proved anything. Tank has provided one quality season for the Dallas Cowboys. Are they willing to pay him a lot of money and take the risk of seeing him play like in 2015 or 2016?

It wouldn’t be the first time that an NFL player has had a great “contract year” season just to become an average football player. The Cowboys should look at the possibility of keeping Lawrence for at least one more year by giving him a franchise tag.

But First of All, What is a Franchise Tag?

The offseason is a time in which we sort of understand certain concepts but don’t truly understand them completely. Simply put, every year each NFL team has the right to hand out a franchise tag to one of its players. Tagging a player means giving him a one-year deal with a high payment, basically forcing the player to stay with the team for one more season.

In some cases, the player might even end up on another team, despite being tagged, but that would depend on the type of franchise tag he receives.

There are three types of franchise tags:

  • Exclusive Franchise Tag: With this tag, the player gets paid the average of the top five salaries for the player’s position (in this case, defensive end) for the current year. With this tag, no other team can negotiate with the player (hence the term exclusive). However, only guys like Kirk Cousins or Von Miller get exclusive tags, so it probably won’t be the case for Lawrence.
  • Non-exclusive Franchise Tag: Out of every tag, this is the most used. With this tag, the player receives the average of the top five salaries at his position over the last five years. Other teams can actually negotiate with the player though. If offered a deal by another team, the current team has the right to match the offer. If they decline to do so, they get two first-round picks in compensation.
  • Transition Franchise Tag: This isn’t as compromising as the other tags are, since the team doesn’t even receive compensation if the player takes a deal with another team. The player is paid the average of the ten best salaries at his position. The current team has the opportunity to match any offers made to the player.

In DeMarcus Lawrence’s case, the “non-exclusive” tag would make the most sense, but even if the Cowboys decide to tag Lawrence, there’s still a big problem… cap space.

Per Over The Cap, Dallas is expected to have a cap number of around $18M. The projected tag for a DE in 2018 is over $17M. The Cowboys have to make some moves if they want to keep Tank on the roster.

Whether it’s releasing some players or restructuring a ton of contracts, something will need to get done in Dallas. Lawrence is not the only player the Cowboys should be concerned about re-signing, so they’ll definitely need the cap space.

We may see some surprising cap casualties if the Cowboys really want Lawrence. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this team says goodbye to Dez Bryant, for example.

I don’t see how this team could let DeMarcus Lawrence walk in free agency. I don’t think they should. Let’s hope Tank is wearing a star in 2018.

Tell me what you think about “DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Cowboys Have Need for Speed at Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot needs in the 2018 offseason. Running back may seem low on the list, but Dallas should not take it for granted. They have an opportunity to add some needed speed and explosion to their offense.

Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith will form an exciting one-two punch at the top of the RB depth chart. Alfred Morris‘ contract has expired and it’s unlikely he’ll return with Smith’s late-season push for a larger role.

Rod Smith is an ideal backup for Elliott. He has the right mix of power and athleticism to run some of the same plays, plus he’s not a bad receiver. He could even work as the third-down back when Zeke needs a breather.

Ezekiel Elliott, Broncos

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Between those two, Dallas has all the power and standard running they need. That’s why I believe they should use the number-three spot this year on a true speedster.

I’m sure the first name that pops in mind is Lance Dunbar, who held that role to varying degrees from 2012-2016. Dunbar could be used in a variety of speed-based plays, go out as a receiver, and even return kicks at times.

The Cowboys have a candidate for this role already in Trey Williams, who was on the practice squad and will be with the team at least to start the offseason.

Small and versatile, Williams looks like he fits that Dunbar mold. However, Williams isn’t a true burner. He clocked just 4.49 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s quick and agile, but isn’t necessarily going to beat guys to the edge.

With the way Dallas’ offensive linemen can move and work out in space, a back with blazing speed could do some real damage. All he needs is a lane and he could make house calls.

Right now, wide receiver Ryan Switzer is the only player Dallas has who can assume some of those Dunbar-like roles. He could be effective on screens and reverses. But a guy with those same skills at RB can be even more dangerous. He can leave defenses guessing even more because they’re not sure which position he’s playing until after the huddle breaks.

That third roster spot is wide open, so the Cowboys should spend the offseason looking for a weapon that provides a different skill set and more for opponents to worry about.

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Cowboys Face Tough Decision with DL Tyrone Crawford

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys Sign Tyrone Crawford To Long-Term Contract 1
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

As the Dallas Cowboys look to get back into the playoffs next season, they have some work to do on their current roster. Talent needs to be added and retained, and that takes money. Veteran Tyrone Crawford’s contract puts the Cowboys in a tough spot.

Crawford isn’t the Cowboys’ best defender, but he did have the highest cap hit in 2017, even more than linebacker Sean Lee. Crawford will count $9.1 million against Dallas’ salary cap next season, which is currently second behind Lee’s projected $11-million hit. That fact alone would make you think Tyrone Crawford is likely to be released this offseason.

It would seem even more likely when you consider how guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving have eclipsed him as impact players on the defensive line.

However, Crawford’s contract isn’t so easily discarded.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford

Because of past restructuring, Dallas won’t get much cap relief by cutting Tyrone outright. He still has $7.3 million in dead money on the deal, which means cap savings of only $1.8 million.

That’s a small return for losing a solid, dependable player and great locker room guy.

Crawford can play inside or outside in the 4-3, and he’s been a veteran leader on an otherwise young roster.

If Dallas were to make Tyrone Crawford a June-1st release, they would get $6 million in cap space for 2018 and push another $4.2-million in dead money to 2019. That sounds nice on the surface, but keep in mind Dallas can’t use that $6 million during free agency in March. It only becomes available after June 1st. Still, the Cowboys could find ways to use that money.

It could fund their rookie pool, or go toward a new contract for Lawrence or Irving. It could also be used to sign other June-1st cap casualties. If nothing else, it could be rolled over to next season. But again, you lose a solid player in the exchange.

Tyrone Crawford may not be worth a $9.1-million cap hit, but you have to factor in replacement cost.

Dallas could certainly get by. Assuming Lawrence and Irving return, they also have Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, and Charles Tapper under contract. Benson Mayowa has one year left on his deal, but is likely to be a cap casualty himself. The Cowboys also have several young prospects in Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and anyone they might add in this year’s draft.

This would be a no-brainer if Crawford’s contract hadn’t been reworked in the past. Dallas would likely get a nice chunk of immediate change if they cut him, but they created their own problem here with the restructuring. Now they have an asset who isn’t worth his price, but doesn’t offer enough relief to be worth cutting.

It’s a tough call; one of many the Cowboys will face in the 2018 offseason.

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