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!
Which Cowboys Benefit From David Irving’s Suspension?
While losing David Irving for the first four weeks of 2018 is a bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, it does create opportunities for some of the other defensive tackles. Who has the most to gain from Irving's suspension?
Because he was mostly going to be used inside as the 3-technique DT, David's absence will naturally benefit the guys who are best suited to play that role. Thankfully, Dallas isn't lacking for those types of players.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford can use all the playing time he can get. As a likely salary cap casualty next year, Crawford doesn't want to get buried on the depth chart as Dallas focuses on their younger players who project to stick around beyond 2018.
With Irving out, Dallas will likely lean on Tyrone as they often do when someone is missing on the defensive line. With more talent now at defensive end, Crawford was going to be competing with Irving, Maliek Collins, Jihad Ward, and other younger guys for work at tackle.
But now there's a problem, and it's easy to slide Crawford into the 3-tech role that Dallas once envisioned him being a star at. Remember, it was their projection of Tyrone as a breakout DT that got him his big contract to begin with.
Yes, Irving's only gone for four weeks. Dallas will still be giving him work in camp based on the role he should fill for the majority of the season. But that's why a veteran like Tyrone Crawford is a great temporary plug-in, because he doesn't need all of the practice reps to step in and perform.
Another key beneficiary could be third-year DT Maliek Collins. Last season, Collins got stuck playing 1-technique and not getting the same opportunities to make plays and get noticed that he had his rookie year.
But now Dallas has several guys in Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, and Brian Price who can play the 1-tech role, which will hopefully get Collins back where he belongs. Maliek's athleticism belongs a little further away from center, letting him try to take on guards in single coverage.
Collins is dealing with a foot issue now but should be back for the preseason. That's enough time for him to be where he needs to be Week One, provided he's healthy.
How Dallas would balance playing time between Collins and Tyrone Crawford could be a matter of how much they play certain schemes. One could see Collins, the bigger guy, playing more in the base defense and then Crawford being used in passing situations.
There is always a lot of rotation in a Rod Marinelli line, so discussions about playing time can get a little silly. Unless you're a true stud like DeMarcus Lawrence who you don't want to take off the field, the Cowboys like to keep guys fresh.
But that's why this is a big opportunity; David Irving has that stud potential. He's the kind of talent who could keep solid players like Crawford and Collins out of view if he hits his stride.
For the first four weeks, though, Irving will be in the NFL doghouse and Dallas will likely lean on its two most experienced defensive tackles to fill the void. There will be more reps for guys like Datone Jones and Jihad Ward too, but Crawford and Collins have way more skins on the wall
That trust should keep them on the field more while David Irving's suspended, and perhaps beyond.
BREAKING: David Irving Suspended For 2nd Consecutive Year
For the second consecutive year, Defensive Lineman David Irving is being suspended for four games by the NFL. This time, the suspension comes after Irving violated the NFL's policy on substance of abuses, as Ian Rapoport reported.
Cowboys DL David Irving is being suspended 4 games for violating @NFL policy on substance of abuses, sources say. Another big-time D-linemen hit with a suspension for Dallas.
Irving will play for the Dallas Cowboys after the team placed a second-round tender on him earlier in the year. Why no team was interested in picking such a talented defensive tackle for a second round pick is becoming clearer and clearer as the time goes on.
In April, when David Irving got hacked by his former girlfriend one of the tweets that stood out the most was one which said "Wait until you all find about his failed drug tests." Now, we're seeing what the tweet was about.
Irving is a very talented player that could have a great career ahead of him. Of course, with this being the second consecutive year in which he receives a suspension to start the season, one could question how much he wants it.
The Cowboys will play the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks and Lions to start the season. They'll have to do it with one of their most promising defensive players in David Irving.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll keep you updated with this story and every Dallas Cowboys news.
Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out
The Dallas Cowboys are back in offseason mode, concluding their OTAs and minicamp from The Star. With a hiatus until training camp, it was important for several high-profile players to make a strong first impression on the 2018 season. From the start of mini camp, these impressions were left mostly by Rod Marinelli's defense and -- more specifically -- Kris Richard's young group of cornerbacks.
Still working through significant change on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys did rally on day three under Quarterback Dak Prescott to put out a better performance. The Cowboys coaching staff should love their lasting memories of both FA acquisition Wide Receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup.
There is a strong chance that these two receivers will be the Cowboys starters in Oxnard for training camp. We have heard a lot about the impact new WR Coach Sanjay Lal has had on his group, slowing the game down to focus on route running. This will give the team's rotation of unproven receivers a chance with Prescott, as he can focus on throwing to a 'spot' more often.
One spot that Prescott has struggled to hit in two seasons as the starter in Dallas is the back of the end zone for fade routes. A red zone go-to under Scott Linehan, free agent WR Dez Bryant was often the intended target on these missed passes.
Less of a route running technician and closer to the mold of a physical player like Bryant, Allen Hurns emerging as the Cowboys #1 option would solve a lot of uncertainty at the WR position. In yesterday's practice, Hurns was able to haul in a perfect ball from Prescott on the fade as he beat Byron Jones.
It's going to take some time for Jones to readjust to playing cornerback, but the vision for Kris Richard of him and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside is a great one. In a battle of proven players, Hurns got the best of Jones to spark the Cowboys offense at the right time.
Overall, there should be no reason to panic about (well, really anything from mini camp) the Cowboys offense right now, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what this defense will develop into.
Once the pads come on at training camp, the players the Cowboys are paying to play at an elite level will start to shine, including their newly re-signed Guard Zack Martin -- the highest paid guard in the league now. There are no doubts that the bread and butter for this offense will be handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott behind this wall of an offensive line.
From this increase in competition in the trenches, we'll also get more meaningful battles along the defensive line. In shorts and helmets for now, the Cowboys secondary was given their chance at mini camp, and came out solid early.
Another player they've struggled to truly corral though is Michael Gallup. Perhaps pressing a bit thanks to his limited opportunities thus far, Jourdan Lewis was taken across the field by Gallup on a misfire from Cooper Rush.
This is nothing new for Gallup however, who's been ahead of the curve on creating the desired separation as a "violent" receiver on the outside.
A steal with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft, Gallup has a long way to go in beating out the likes of Terrance Williams, Cedrick Wilson (limited through this portion of the offseason with injuries), and even Cole Beasley, who's received some reps on the outside.
With both Hurns and Gallup making plays on the Cowboys final practice until late July, it's easy to let the mind wander with possibilities of the Cowboys offense playing at full strength against a defense that might be up for the challenge better than ever compared to year's past.
As always, the practice fields of Oxnard will serve as a battle ground for a young but deep Cowboys team to earn their spots on the 53-man roster, one that surely won't have room for all of the wide receiver hopefuls seen this week in mini camp.
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