Before free agency officially begins at 4:00pm EST, let's set the table for the Dallas Cowboys. While not expected to be major players in this market, they still have to field a team of 53 players the same as everyone else. Moves will be made, players will leave, and new guys will be added.
To begin, here is a snapshot of our current roster. We're going to go based on players who are under contract for 2017 and who have contributed something to the team before now. We'll get to guys from the practice squad and reserve/future contracts shortly.
Also, even though they are technically under contract and counting against the roster at the moment, we're going to move forward with two assumptions:
This roster reflects the most current news as of now. Receiver Brice Butler has signed a one-year deal to return. Dallas has also given a tender offer to David Irving, an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.
QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
FB: Keith Smith
WR: Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead
TE: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins
T: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary
DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton
OLB: Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha
MLB: Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Leon McFadden
S: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier
ST: Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
So, before we get into any other free agent signings or lesser-known players, that's 41 roster spots covered by existing talent. That leaves 12 total spots open for a full roster.
There are several other players under contract right now. These are players who were signed to small two-year deals following time spent on the practice squad. Most of them were with Dallas, but a few came from other teams at the end of the year.
Here's the list of these 2017 roster hopefuls:
WR: Andy Jones, Shaquelle Evans, Quincy McDuffie, Uzoma Nwachukwu
TE: Rico Gathers
G: Kadeem Edwards
T: Clay DeBord
DE: Lenny Jones, Zach Wood
LB: Jeremiah George
CB: Jeremiah McKinnon, Sammy Seamster
S: Jameil Showers
A few names jump out immediately. Rico Gathers, a sixth-round pick last year, reportedly had a great year in practices and is projected to make the team this season. Receiver Andy Jones, who was a training camp standout in 2016, also has raised expectations for his second year.
Obviously, these players don't cover all of the team's needs. There isn't anyone to add to the depth charts at quarterback or running back. But these 13 players, plus the 40 we already mentioned, take us 53 total. Between now and the first round of cuts in late August, teams are allowed up to 90 players on their rosters.
Hello free agency. Hello draft.
Possible Returning Free Agents
As previously mentioned, Dallas re-signed Brice Butler and David Irving in the last few days. They still have close to 20 other free agents from last year's team. Will anyone else be coming back? Let's go position-by-position.
QB: Kellen Moore, Mark Sanchez
After his awful Week 17 appearance, it's easy to dismiss Mark Sanchez returning. However, Dak Prescott spoke highly of Sanchez's advice throughout the season and perhaps that's enough to at least get him back for a competition. Kellen Moore could also be given a chance, given his system experience.
RB: Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar
The prevailing theory right now is that Dallas will cut Alfred Morris for $1.6 million in cap space and use that to re-sign McFadden, who they like more. I would expect those moves to happen in the next few days.
As for Lance Dunbar, can the coaches really still have faith that he will emerge as a regular contributor? Other than the brief flash in early 2015, Dunbar has never assumed the Darren Sproles-like role that has been envisioned. With Ezekiel Elliott now demanding full-time touches, Dunbar is likely headed elsewhere.
With rumors out there that Williams will get anywhere from $6-$8 million per season in his next contract, he is well out of Dallas' price range. The re-signing of Butler is likely their way of filling Williams' spot, seeing not so much at the "second WR" position but more the fourth option behind Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten.
TE: Gavin Escobar
If not for James Hanna's injury last year, Escobar might have not even made the team. He fell to fourth on the depth chart and only rose as Hanna and Geoff Swaim got hurt. Gavin is a goner.
G: Ronald Leary, Jonathan Cooper
Leary is expected to earn a starting job and the big contract he's been waiting for, only with another team. Dallas has La'el Collins ready to return and don't need to keep Leary at a premium. Ron more than deserves his payday and someone else will give it to him.
Dallas brought Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick, in for depth and a little tire kicking at the end of last season. Cooper may be hoping that his name value is worth something on the open market, but if not I could see him coming back on a minimal deal.
DE: Jack Crawford, Ryan Davis
Jack "Of All Trades" Crawford is a valuable, versatile defensive lineman who was more than worth the $1 million he played for last year. Dallas would likely hope to bring him back on a similar deal, but reports are that other teams have finally taken notice and may be after Crawford's services. He may quickly get too expensive for us.
As for Ryan Davis, Injuries prevented the former Jaguar from having a sustained impact in Dallas. He isn't expected back.
DT: Terrell McClain
News has just broken that McClain will sign with Washington, which is in keeping with the belief that he would find better-paying work outside of Dallas. The Cowboys already have starters with Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Cedric Thornton, which would've made keeping McClain an unaffordable luxury.
LB: Justin Durant, Andrew Gachkar, Rolando McClain
Justin Durant's one-year comeback wasn't very impressive. He looked the part of an aging veteran and I wouldn't be surprised if he retires in the coming months. Dallas will have other depth options with Mark Nzeocha and either Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson, depending on who wins the SAM position battle.
Andrew Gachkar could come back for veteran experience and special teams play, but he is up against the same younger prospects. He has a far greater chance of re-signing than Durant but I still think it's less than likely.
As for Rolando, Dallas and 31 other teams are going to pass on his services. Enjoy fishing.
CB: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne
Of all the significant free agents, Carr is the one I think has the best chance to return. He provides leadership and reliability and should be had for a reasonable price. Dallas will likely be counting on Anthony Brown to be CB1 next year. Carr and Orlando Scandrick could then fill out the top three with veteran experience.
While he hasn't created much free agent buzz yet, Morris Claiborne is expected to get a significant offer from someone. Even with his talent, which is still probably the best Dallas has at corner, all of the missed games and baggage is just more than I'd be willing to deal with. It's time for a clean break.
S: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox
Word is that Church will be signing with the Jaguars. Much like Terrell McClain, it's been expected that he would get too expensive on the open market for Dallas to keep him.
The question now is if Dallas sees Wilcox as a capable starter or, at least, an upgrade over Jeff Heath. If they are interested, it will come down to how long Wilcox sits unsigned and how far down that drops his asking price. Because of Heath's presence and lots of safety prospects in the coming draft, the Cowboys won't overpay.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, Dallas will still have plenty of work to do this offseason to complete their roster. Several starters and significant role-players will be leaving in free agency. Even if Dallas re-signs the few that I've suggested, it will still leave important spots to be filled.
Thankfully, talent from across the NFL will be out there as free agency opens. Some will be available at discount prices and Dallas will likely pounce on a few. They also have the draft to look forward to, and then perhaps a few more free agent options after June 1st cuts.
You will probably be disappointed by the lack of Cowboys action early on in this free agency. While it can get frustrating, keep in mind that it's part of an overall philosophical change. Dallas is trying to get out of the perpetual "salary cap hell" that it seems like they've endured for many seasons. A big part of that is not overpaying free agents in the NFL's inflated open market.
5 Dallas Cowboys Make 2019 Pro Bowl Roster
The Dallas Cowboys will be well represented in the 2019 Pro Bowl. Last night, five players were named to the NFC roster: RB Ezekiel Elliott, OT Tyron Smith, G Zack Martin, DE DeMarcus Lawrence, and CB Byron Jones.
Dallas tied the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints for the most players to the NFC team. However, the Los Angeles Chargers led all teams with seven players making the AFC squad. The Chiefs and Steelers had six players each.
Congratulations to #DallasCowboys @Byron31Jump, Tyron Smith, @TankLawrence, @thegob70 and @EzekielElliott who are #ProBowl Bound!
Byron Jones is the only first-time Pro Bowler among the Cowboys. He's been one of the best cornerbacks in football this year, switching back to the position after a few years playing safety.
This will be the second-straight Pro Bowl for DeMarcus Lawrence, who remains among the league's most feared pass rushers. It's also the second trip for Ezekiel Elliott, who went as a rookie but missed last year's game with his suspension issues.
Pro Bowl fixtures Tyron Smith and Zack Martin return for the sixth and fifth-straight years, respectively. For Martin, it preserves his streak of making the team every year since he came into the NFL.
Even with these five players being named, you could argue that Dallas deserved a couple more. Rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch has been one of the top defensive players in the league this year. And WR Amari Cooper, once he got to Dallas, has been as productive as any receiver in football.
That aside, congratulations to Zeke, Tyron, Zack, Tank, and Byron for making this year's team!
Should Cowboys Claim WR Pharoh Cooper Off Waivers?
In a somewhat surprising move the Los Angeles Rams have decided to part ways with Pharoh Cooper, who not only made the Pro Bowl last year in 2017, but was also a First-Team All-Pro as a return specialist.
The Rams have waived kick returner Pharoh Cooper. He was named a first team All Pro in 2017 after ranking second in the league in kickoff return and punt return average.
Pharoh Cooper is now subject to the waiver wire, meaning anyone of the other 31 teams around the league can put in a claim to acquire his services. If he goes unclaimed however, he will become a free agent and is free to sign with any team of his choosing.
As one of those 31 teams, the Dallas Cowboys could be one of the interested parties in acquiring Cooper's services. After all, adding Amari Cooper worked out pretty well, so why not kick the tires on another Cooper.
With just two regular-season games remaining in 2018, many teams would view bringing aboard Pharoh Cooper as a move with the future in mind. But, with the Cowboys he could literally hit the ground running and contribute right away in one of their weakest areas, as a return specialist.
The Dallas Cowboys are currently deploying Cornerback Jourdan Lewis as their kick returner and Wide Receiver Cole Beasley as their punt returner. Neither is making any kind of impact in the return game, meaning the Cowboys could definitely use an upgrade at both spots and Cooper could be just the man to provide that service.
Like I mentioned earlier, Pharoh Cooper was a Pro Bowl/First-Team All-Pro return man just a season ago. He did most of his damage as a kick returner, averaging 27.4 yards per return. The Cowboys just so happen to fall victim to one of his returns for 66 yards last year. So, they know all too well what he is capable of.
I personally like the idea of the Cowboys bringing in Pharoh Cooper, and not only as a return specialist. After this season their WR depth could be depleted quite a bit. Cooper would provide insurance for depth purposes, even though he hasn't made much of an impact in the passing game yet in his young career.
Now, I have no idea whether or not the Cowboys will show any interest or put in a waiver claim for the former Pro Bowl return man, but it sounds like a good idea to me. I guess we'll just have to wait and see if another Cooper somehow makes his way to Dallas.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys should put in a waiver claim for Pharoh Cooper?
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
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