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.
I 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
Cutting 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)
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 Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
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.
TE: 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)
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
So, 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)
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.
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)
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.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)
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)
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:
- QB - Jameil Showers
- RB - Rod Smith
- WR - Andy Jones
- TE - Austin Traylor
- T - Ryan Mack
- C - Jake Brendel
- DE - Mike McAdoo
- DT - Rodney Coe
- LB - Derek Akunne
- 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!
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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