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!
7 Free Agents the Cowboys Should Target
The Dallas Cowboys' focus after losing in the second round of the playoffs is likely going to be contract extensions, sealing up their best players now before getting ready for the draft. They're likely to lose a few free agents but their priority will be their big name free agent, DeMarcus Lawrence, and extending contracts of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and probably Byron Jones, in a year where they’ll see more cap room than they have in a long time.
Free agency, to Dallas, has been really almost entirely about re-signing their own and not dipping into the free agency pool like Jerry Jones used to do. However, in today’s NFL, a bit of the old Jerry may need to come back.
If we look at the success of Philadelphia, the L.A. Rams, Kansas City, Cleveland or Chicago, all these teams re-signed their own and drafted well, but also went out of their way to either trade for or sign other players. Free agency helped refuel all these teams and all saw success in the same capacity as the draft did.
The Cowboys don’t need to break the bank but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider some players who will be available. This team has nowhere to go but up, so take that next step. The more help, the better.
A bit of an underrated name, Anthony Sherman was another Pro Bowl player this season for Kansas City. Being brought back on a one-year "prove it" deal, he more than outplayed his contract.
The Cowboys' current fullback, Jamize Olawale, did play as well as people had hoped. He played well on special teams, but as a blocker for Ezekiel Elliott and a receiver out of the backfield (see the Colts game). Olawale was a very valuable player to Oakland but he wasn’t able to replicate the same success in Dallas.
Sherman might want to come back to Kansas City but not only do the Cowboys have more cap room in 2019 but the possibility of playing with arguably the best running back in football might be too big to pass up. Just imagine the next Daryl Johnston and Emmitt Smith.
See how many quarterbacks there are in the NFL and then which teams gave them a plethora of weapons: Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, etc.
Amari Cooper appears to have re-established himself among the NFL’s elite receivers, Tavon Austin looks like a cheap re-sign who could be used in rotation both in the slot and outside, and Michael Gallup in the last four games of the season finally meshed with Dak Prescott and looks like a great number two receiver. Throw in Blake Jarwin and a likely second-round pick to be a tight end, and the Cowboys look like they’ve got plenty of weapons.
We need to consider now the other receivers Dallas has. Cole Beasley is hitting free agency and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to keep him, Terrance Williams’ future is up in the air, Allen Hurns is coming back from a devastating injury, and Noah Brown is much more of an H-Back/sub-tight end option. Ideally, Dak Prescott’s next receiver will have good hands, run routes well and have plenty of speed.
Randall Cobb is not likely to return to Green Bay, and according to spotrac.com, his estimated value is currently a little under $8 million a year. Whether that’s too rich for the Cowboys’ taste or not, they should consider this. Cobb is only 28 years old and still can be productive on the right team, and given the right quarterback, one of the better slot receivers in the game.
The Legion of Boom is dead and, with it, the remnants of Seattle’s Super Bowl defense. K.J. Wright might not be on the same level as Bobby Wagner but he might be just what the Cowboys need in the linebacker rotation.
It looks like Sean Lee might have played his last down as a Cowboy. He’s never completed a full 16-game season, and with rising stars Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch back there, Lee is a likely cap casualty. Damien Wilson is a solid linebacker and often played up to the level that both Smith and Vander Esch played at but Wright might be an upgrade.
He’s 29 years old but won’t command a high price in the open market. His familiarity with Kris Richard also makes this an intriguing option. Knowing his success with Richard, it would make sense that Wright wants to finish his career in a system that he can thrive in and possibly make it back to the Super Bowl.
Depth was seriously tested on the offensive line in 2018. Travis Frederick missed all season with Guillain-Barré syndrome, Zack Martin missed time with knee issues, and Tyron Smith as well, for his neck.
Connor Williams looks like the future at right guard but Xavier Su'a-Filo filled in for most of the season. Going forward, the Cowboys need better, more veteran depth.
Matt Slauson has played for four different teams, playing in 114 games and starting in 111 of them. While he’s probably not the player he once was, Dallas really needs him for quality depth across the interior offensive line and veteran leadership.
He only cost the Colts $3 million last season, and that would be worth the price to bring him in. Depending on the health of the offensive line, any sort of upgrade on the second team is worth it.
It’s always good to have a full backfield. You need your lead dog, a solid number two and a speed receiver option to come out of the backfield. The Cowboys lacked the last one, and they could really use it.
Jalen Richard is a modest 5’8 200 lbs but has given the Raiders plenty of quality play, both as a change of pace back and especially at receiver. In fact, he had more receptions (68) than he did rushes (55) in 2018.
Since he’s likely to be mostly used as the Lance Dunbar-type of back that Jason Garrett misses, it's better that he catch passes than run the ball.
Richard shouldn’t cost very much and having him there would allow Elliott more rest, not having to force him out there on passing downs. Obviously Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in the game, at both running and catching, but quality depth with Jalen Richard might be what keeps him healthier, longer.
Health has been the biggest issue for Jason Verrett. His first two seasons looked like he was going to be a star in this league. However, in the last three seasons, he’s only played in five total games. It’s unlikely that he’ll be retained by the Chargers.
Jerry Jones has shown from time to time that he’ll give a player chances, despite off-field or injury issues (see Rolando McClain). A one-year "prove it" deal would make a lot of sense, especially if it improves the Cowboys' secondary depth.
Having played at TCU, Verrett is familiar with DFW and would probably be welcomed. There’s still plenty of time for Verrett to return his career back to where it once was. At a discount, the Cowboys might want to take advantage.
At last! We’ve come to THE name everyone has expected: Earl Thomas.
Leader of the Legion of Boom and future Hall-of-Famer, Earl Thomas broke the internet last season when he ran toward the Cowboys locker room, telling coach Jason Garrett to come and get him. Cowboys and Seahawks fans went crazy.
It was a move that was thought could happen before or during the draft, or possibly before the 2018 season started. But Seattle never budged.
Instead, Earl Thomas broke a bone in his leg, the game after he played the Cowboys and was placed on injured reserve. Now, Earl Thomas is a free agent, and Seattle is likely to lose him and get nothing back.
Earl Thomas has been to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, and along with Kris Richard helped create one of the greatest secondaries in NFL history. This should be a no brainer. Earl Thomas could be the missing piece to the already elite Cowboys defense. Let’s make everyone’s wishes come true and make this happen Jerry Jones!
3 Reasons Why Kellen Moore Should Not Become Offensive Coordinator
The notion that current Quarterbacks Coach Kellen Moore will be promoted to Offensive Coordinator has divided many Cowboys fans. The idea is growing on some, but others remain very opposed. Is he really the right guy to help Dallas' offense get to the next level?
Yesterday, one of my fellow Inside The Star writers gave his reasons why Moore's promotion could be a positive for the Cowboys. I decided to play devil's advocate today and give three reasons why it would not be a good move.
For the record, I'm not opposed to the move. I don't want some retread like Todd Haley or Mike McCoy, who have been fired from more than one NFL team in their past. What innovation can they offer at this point?
But at the same time, do you really want a guy whose never held the job at any level before now? That leads us to my first reason for being against Kellen Moore.
Even Sean McVay spent three seasons as the Redskins' OC before he got his job in Los Angeles. Moore was playing QB just a year ago and has spent one season in a true coaching role. I know he was credited for being an assistant to the coaches during his playing career, but you'd still like a guy whose spent a little more time with a clipboard in hand.
Kellen could be a genius, and there are often reality checks that come whenever you step into a larger role. We often see something being done and think we understand, even thinking we could do it better, but then discover nuances and challenges that we didn't recognize before.
Most of the greatest QBs to ever play the game didn't have strong rookie seasons.
Of course, there's talk that Moore's role as OC would be supplemented by a lot of experienced assistants. Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier has been a coordinator on the college level for high-profile programs like Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. We could even see Jason Garrett gets more hand-on with the offense again.
Perhaps Kellen would give a fresh approach and outlook that would push the Cowboys' offense forward in 2019. But you have to be concerned about his lack of experience, regardless of how highly you rate his potential.
2. Scott Linehan's Influence
If you didn't like Linehan's work with the Cowboys then you may be concerned that he's had a lot of influence on Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy. Between Dallas and Detroit, they have been together for all but one of Moore's seven years in the NFL.
Linehan was the Lions' OC when Moore signed with them following the 2012 draft. When Scott was fired by Detroit after the 2013 season, he came to Dallas while Kellen played one more year with the Lions. In 2015, Linehan played a key role in getting Moore signed by the Cowboys.
That said, we have no way of knowing how much Linehan has shaped Moore's ideas about football. It's only a hypothetical, but one that shouldn't be ignored.
It's entirely possible that Kellen may have learned some good things by observing Linehan, too. "What not to do" can be valuable experience. Perhaps Moore was shaking his head at some of Scott's calls and decisions as much as the rest of us.
I take some confidence in the fact that Jason Garrett, who knows offense, would be willing to make this move. His job is on the line and the willingness to give Kellen Moore increased responsibility means Jason must see something he likes.
It also would mean he doesn't blame Kellen for our third reason.
3. QB Regression in 2018
This is the clearest and most concerning evidence against Moore's ascension on the coaching staff. In his one year as Quarterbacks Coach, there was no sign of development in Dak Prescott's performance from his rookie season. Also, Cooper Rush's play in the 2018 preseason was a clear regression from last year.
But only insiders know how much of this is about the coach as opposed to players and other factors around them. Was Kellen wanting to coach things that didn't align with Linehan's offensive strategy? Was Moore really getting to do things his way?
Most would agree that Prescott's play got better as the season went on, and perhaps that's a feather in Moore's cap. In fact, it could be a sign that Kellen also improved in his role over time.
As for Rush, we've seen plenty of one-hit wonders in sports. Guys can get hot and cool off, and perhaps what we saw last August was closer to reality than his 2017 play.
But as smart and savvy as Kellen Moore has been praised to be as an offensive mind, there's no denying that it didn't seem to rub off on the Cowboys quarterbacks this year. Communicating and teaching what you know to others is a separate skill.
~ ~ ~
Ultimately, we don't know what kind of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore could turn out to be. But there's evidence on both sides of the argument, and the Cowboys will be taking a serious gamble if they elect to promote such an inexperienced guy to such an important role.
But in this era when everyone is looking for the next creative and innovative offensive mind, maybe it's the exact move this team needs.
How Joe Looney Saved the Cowboys Season and Protected Their Future
I can't really express enough how important Center Joe Looney was to the Dallas Cowboys 2018 success. His play was kind of lost in the shuffle of all of the ups and downs that took place throughout the year, which is why I wanted to try to set the record straight today.
Joe Looney is better known around Cowboys Nation and the outside media as the guy who dressed up as a 6'3", 315 pound Ezekiel Elliott earlier in the offseason. You may have forgotten, but he wore Zeke's No. 21 jersey with his mid-drift showing while miming the "Feed Me" sign during practice. It's hard to imagine a jokester like that could be such an integral part to the Cowboys 2018 season, but he was.
Despite his jocularity, Joe Looney more than adequately replaced Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys offensive line this past season. In fact, he was really the only consistent thing about the starting five, which in itself deserves more attention than it's actually received.
The Cowboys OL was a mess this season. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, Dallas' other Pro Bowl offensive lineman, battled injuries throughout the year and missed time because of it. Add that to the revolving door at left guard between Connor Williams and Xavier Su'a-Filo and La'el Collins up-and-down season, and Looney's play looks all that more impressive.
The fact that Joe Looney was pretty much an afterthought this past season really speaks volumes to the level of his play. One of the things that really made him so important to the Cowboys success though in 2018 was his availability.
It may surprise you to know, but Looney played every single offensive snap (1,076) in 2018. That's up from just 94 snaps in 2017 as the Cowboys backup guard/center. I don't know about you, but I find that really impressive. To go from basically not playing to starting every single game is a huge jump to make.
As impressive as it was for Joe Looney to play every single offensive snap in 2018 for the Cowboys, what he did with that opportunity is even more inspiring. If not for him, Dallas wouldn't have won the NFC East division or made the playoffs. But, he did more than save their season. He protected their future.
Just imagine for a second if Looney would've been a disaster taking over for Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys OL. It shouldn't take too much imagination on your part, just think back to what happened in 2017 with Tyron Smith out of the lineup, forcing Chaz Green and Byron Bell to start at left tackle.
Quarterback Dak Prescott was forced to run for his life in 2017 with backups at LT, causing him to regress as a pocket passer and develop "happy feet". If not for Looney, it could've destroyed Prescott's confidence altogether. Instead, Prescott continued to improve throughout the 2018 season and looks to be the future at the position once again.
I don't know what you think about all of this, but for me Joe Looney was the Dallas Cowboys MVP in 2018. I believe it's time to give credit where credit is due, because he's definitely not receiving the kind of recognition he deserves.
Do you think Joe Looney saved the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season?
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