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.
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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.
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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!