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!
Cowboys Reunion with WR Brice Butler Makes No Sense
The Dallas Cowboys have brought back Wide Receiver Brice Butler, who was with the team from 2015-2017. The reunion is a head-scratching move given the team's current stockpile of receivers, and especially given Butler's lack of impact during his previous run in Dallas.
There's no question that Dallas could use some more juice in the passing game. So far the post-Witten, post-Bryant era has only seen 165 yards-per-game out of Dak Prescott and his current receiving options.
I can understand the Cowboys getting antsy about this low production. I can understand the feeling that waiting for chemistry to develop between Dak and new faces like Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup, or any one of these young tight ends, could be damaging to the season.
But when you need a spark in the offense, it seems odd to turn to a guy who was in your system for three years and never had a huge game.
Let's just look at Butler's top five statistical performances as a Cowboy:
- 5 catches, 41 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 4, 2016)
- 2 catches, 90 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 3, 2017)
- 2 catches, 50 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 17, 2017)
- 4 catches, 74 yards (Week 16, 2015)
- 4 catches, 60 yards (Week 17, 2015)
No games with over 100 yards. No games with more than five catches. No games with more than one touchdown.
I'm not trying to slam Brice here. He is what he is. This is all about trying to understand the logic of the Cowboys' front office in making this move.
If the idea was to bring in a guy who Dak Prescott had more familiarity with, then why not give Terrance Williams more playing time? He's already on the roster and buried on the depth chart, getting the fewest snaps of all the WRs last week.
If you've followed my work for long, you know I'm no fan of Williams. But even I can admit that he's been more productive and effective in this offense than Brice Butler ever was.
If you're bringing in Butler to be a vertical threat, isn't that what you signed veteran Deonte Thompson for? Last year, playing for two different teams with shaky QB situations, Thompson had 38 catches for 555 yards. Brice hasn't had a single season close to that.
What about Tavon Austin? Just three days ago, Austin had a 64-yard touchdown. Did we really need another guy for field stretching? And even if so, what in Butler's history indicates he can do something that Thompson or Austin can't?
Don't forget about Hurns, Gallup, or Cole Beasley either. They're not vertical receivers, but they're still the top three guys in the offense.
If you're a Brice Butler fan, you've likely argued that his lack of production in Dallas was from a lack of opportunities. That may be true, but how has that changed in 2018? There are more mouths to feed than ever at WR.
What is Butler going to do now, that he didn't for three years, to earn more looks?
If Dallas was really concerned about adding an offensive spark, the opportunity was out there this week with Josh Gordon. The Patriots got him for a conditional 5th-round pick from Cleveland just yesterday.
I can understand why Dallas, given recent issues with Randy Gregory and David Irving, were reluctant to add a player with such a notorious history of substance abuse. But if the no-nonsense Patriots were willing to give him a shot, why not the far more liberal Cowboys?
If Gordon was one problem child too many, what about Jordan Matthews? The former 2nd-round pick is still just 26 (Butler is 28) and had over 800 yards in each year from 2014-2016. He had a down year in Buffalo in 2017, as anyone would, and then didn't make the Patriots squad this year due to an injury.
Whether it's on your own roster or out in the open market, there seem to be profitable options than Brice Butler. The chance for him to be the next Laurent Robinson came and went; the same QB and the same Offensive Coordinator are here.
Is there really some juice left to squeeze here?
There's an old saying that, "if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any." I think the same logic applies to having seven wide receivers. There was already a logjam, and Dallas didn't even cut one of them to make room for Butler.
So yeah, I don't get it. I'm perplexed why they added anyone at all, this early in the year, while their current receivers are all healthy and still trying to find their role in the offense.
And if the Cowboys really felt that had to make a move, why the heck did they bring back this guy?
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks: Inside The Numbers
The Dallas Cowboys will travel to the Pacific Northwest this weekend to face the Seattle Seahawks in an important game for both teams in the NFC race.
The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2 and risk being buried in an NFC West that has seen the Los Angeles Rams become the divisional power. With the San Francisco 49ers trending up, the Seahawks might find themselves left behind. On Monday Night Football, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks had little answers for a Chicago Bears team that has one of the more underrated defenses in the NFL. Well, maybe not so underrated now. They battered Wilson and the Seahawks offensive line for six sacks and were able to pressure him into an interception they were able to return for a touchdown.
The Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a week one disappointment to take care of business against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. It wasn't a pretty win on offense, save for the first and last drives of the game, but it was a solid win. The defense dominated the New York Giants' offensive line and left them searching for answers at 0-2.
As we get ready for week three let's go Inside The Numbers for yet another important matchup for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the all-time series 10-8, but have dropped the last two matchups and are 2-3 over the last five games. They've split the last two meetings that played in Seattle, winning the most recent showdown in 2014, 30-23.
If you'll remember, that was the game that had us all believing that Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray led Cowboys team was for real. Sadly the 2014 season ended with the typical heartbreak that we've grown accustomed to in the last 23 years.
Let's take a look at how the matchup breaks down on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks offenses are eerily similar statistically as both rank near the bottom in most offensive categories.
As you can see from the chart above, there aren't many categories where either team ranks inside the top 20 in total offense.
- The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage along the offensive line. They rank inside the top 15 in rush yards, rush TDs, first downs on the ground, and have allowed fewer sacks than the Seattle Seahawks offensive line.
- The Dallas Cowboys have been excellent through two games at protecting the ball, having only turned it over one time; a fumble by Dak Prescott in the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers.
- Through two games, the Seahawks haven't rushed for a touchdown. They haven't run it often and haven't run it very well either. They only average 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground. Advantage Cowboys.
- While the Seahawks have thrown for more yards this season, Dak Prescott has a better completion percentage. For the year, Russell Wilson has completed only 59.4% of his passes. Dak Prescott is at 64.8%.
It's on the defensive side of the ball where the Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage, particularly with their pass rush.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys have the statistical edge in nearly every category.
- The Dallas Cowboys rank in the top five in several defensive categories including points allowed, yards allowed, yards per play, passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt, first downs achieved through the air, and sacks.
- Where the Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the first two games, particularly against the Carolina Panthers was against the run. Though they're around the middle of the pack through two games, the Panthers were able to find a lot of success on the ground. The New York Giants, not so much.
- The Cowboys are going to have to continue to be careful with the football as the Seattle Seahawks continue to be one of the best at creating turnovers, especially in the secondary. They're tied for first in the NFL in interceptions with five. Through two games, Prescott hasn't thrown one, but he's had a couple potential interceptions dropped. This week he won't be so lucky.
What it All Means
The Dallas Cowboys are going to have a pretty difficult challenge corralling Seahawks' Quarterback Russell Wilson, but the numbers seem to point to it being a long afternoon for Wilson.
The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage when the Seahawks drop back to pass. The Seattle offensive line has allowed the most sacks in the NFL. Coming off allowing six sacks to the Chicago Bears, Wilson could be in for another long day against a Dallas Cowboys defense that is second in the NFL -- to the Chicago Bears -- in sacks with nine.
The Seattle Seahawks won't be able to rely on their running game to keep the Dallas Cowboys defense off balance as they only average 3.4 yards per carry through the first two weeks of the season. If the Cowboys can get an early lead this Sunday, it will present a really favorable opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
Dallas Cowboys vs Seattle Seahawks Stat Notes
Dak Prescott hasn't thrown an interception this season. If we can make any observations through two games, it's that he seems to be back to his ball protection ways. As a rookie, Prescott only through four interceptions, before doubling that in 2017 with eight.
Cole Beasley and Deonte Thompson are tied for 27th in the NFL in yards per route run. That number is better than Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings, Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions, Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers, and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Seattle Seahawks have had a hard time getting to opposing passers and have collected only three sacks through the NFL's first two weeks. Prescott was sacked six times in week one, but the Dallas Cowboys offensive line rebounded to keep the New York Giants from collecting a sack in week two.
Tyler Lockett has played 53 of his 79 offensive snaps from the slot, but has only been targeted four times, catching four passes for 85 yards. His 1.60 yards per route run out of the slot is tied for 11th in the NFL among players who have played at least 50% of their snaps from the slot.
Seattle Defensive Lineman Jarran Reed has been the best run defender for the Seahawks, earning a run stop on 13.5% of his run snaps. Overall he sits eighth in the NFL. Among defensive lineman with at least 50% of their team's run snaps, only Da'Shawn Hand and Linval Joseph have a better run stop percentage.
The amount of snaps per reception allowed by Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Anthony Brown. No player who has played at least 50% of his coverage snaps in the slot has a higher snap per reception rate in the NFL than Brown's 19.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson's been sacked on 36.4% of his drop backs this season. Only Ryan Tannehill and Nathan Peterman have a worse percentage of players who have dropped back to pass a minimum of 22 times this season.
Wilson's been under pressure on 38.8% of his drop backs, which is sixth in the NFL.
Dak Prescott's adjusted completion percentage, which "accounts for factors that hurt the passer's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are," per Pro Football Focus and "It accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the QB was hit while they threw the ball."
Prescott's adjusted completion percentage is ninth in the NFL. Better than notable names such as Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ben Roethlisberger, DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
As I look at the run down for this game and after watching these two teams in week two, I see this as a very favorable matchup for the Dallas Cowboys. Obviously, statistics don't tell the whole story, but the Dallas Cowboys biggest strength, it's pass rush, will be facing a Seattle team that is very weak along the offensive line.
This looks to be a Dallas Cowboys win that will improve them to 2-1.
Snap Judgments: Cowboys’ Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win
The Dallas Cowboys evened their record at 1-1 with their 20-13 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night. The Cowboys linebackers had a huge impact on the outcome of the game and it wasn't just the guys at the top of the depth chart either. America's Team got contributions from guys at the bottom of the depth chart.
What a difference a year makes.
The Dallas Cowboys worked hard this offseason to fix the linebacker depth that failed them in the 2017 season. When Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens -- or both -- were sidelined with injuries, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and the rest of the linebacker group struggled to keep up with opposing offenses. Specifically, in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers the major depth inadequacy was revealed.
One year later, the Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker corp that allows them to go five deep with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson all making considerable contributions for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday nights victory.
Here are the final snap counts for the five linebackers that played a defensive snap against the Giants.
- Jaylon Smith - 57 (84%)
- Sean Lee - 41 (60)
- Leighton Vander Esch - 28 (48%)
- Damien Wilson - 17 (25%)
- Joe Thomas - 14 (21%)
Jaylon Smith led the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night with 10 tackles (seven solo) and played really well roaming sideline to sideline and making plays. He was tasked with the difficult assignment of containing New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley and allowed four catches for 41 yards in his coverage area. Smith was credited with three stops or plays that result in a "loss" for the offense (per Pro Football Focus). Smith led the team in snaps for the second straight week.
Sean Lee had a better game on Sunday night than he did in week one. PFF credited him with four stops, four tackles and an assist. Lee allowed two catches for 24 yards on two targets to Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram. Lee pulled his hamstring at the end of the game and was held out the rest of the way for precautionary reasons. He'll be an interesting name to watch on this week's injury report. Age catches up with everyone, but hopefully Sean Lee can stave it off for at least another season.
Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch saw a big bump in his snap count from week one (17) to week two (28). The rookie played well too. As many players seemed to struggle with tackling Saquon Barkley, Vander Esch was able to bring down the number two overall pick on several occasions. Vander Esch had seven solo tackles in his second career game.
Damien Wilson was the surprise player of the night. He had three tackles on the night, including one on special teams, a sack, and a forced fumble. Though his time on the field might have been short, his impact was certainly felt. His forced fumble led to a field goal that gave the Dallas Cowboys a 13-0 nothing lead. Wilson was also credited with two stops on the night.
Joe Thomas has been a good player for the team off the bench as well. Though he only had one tackle, it was good enough to be credited with a stop. He's a player that can play both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. As the fourth or fifth linebacker on the depth chart, Thomas is a great role player.
Other Snap Count Notes
- Taco Charlton may not have started, but he played 84% of the team's defensive snaps. That number is up from 73% in week one. Charlton had a sack, a hit, and a hurry as well as three stops on the night.
- Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns led the wide receiver group in snap percentage from week one to week two. The big difference at wide receiver was seeing Michael Gallup take the third most snaps on offense instead of Deonte Thompson. Thompson still had the bigger impact with four catches for 33 yards on five targets including two for first downs.
- Geoff Swaim was the far and away leader at tight end in snaps with a 94% snap count. Only the offensive line and Dak Prescott had more snaps on the night than Swaim. He's the TE1 for the team, though he didn't have an impact in the passing game.
- Rico Gathers only played five snaps, but there was concerted effort to get him the ball as he had two targets in his five snaps. He may not have come away with a catch, but it's a start.
- Jourdan Lewis continues to be the odd man out on defense. He only played one snap.
- Dorance Armstrong saw a snap jump from week one to week two going from 28% of the defensive snaps to 40% of the snaps. He had two hurries and an assisted tackle.
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