With the 2017 cut day scheduled for tomorrow, but cuts potentially coming today as well, I wanted to get out this final projection of the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster for 2017. This is the roster I believe they will have for Week One of the regular season.
Because it is the Week One roster, we have to account for suspensions. Here is a summary of the Cowboys' suspension situation as it currently stands:
- DE Randy Gregory, indefinite (substance violations) *CONFIRMED*
- RB Ezekiel Elliott, 6 games (domestic violence) *CONFIRMED*
- DL David Irving, 4 games (PED violation) *CONFIRMED*
- DE Damontre Moore, 2 games (substance violation) *CONFIRMED*
- CB Nolan Carroll, 2 games (DWI arrest) (probable)
- LB Damien Wilson, ? games (Assault arrest) (probable)
As you already know, Ezekiel Elliott's suspension is in a volatile state right now. Even if the appeal knocks it down to just a couple of games, that still means he won't playing in Week One. However, if Elliott decides to take the NFL to court and can get the injunction in time, he may be able to play until that process is complete. For the purpose of this article, and based on my belief that we are headed to a legal battle, I am going to include him on this projection.
I'm surprise that we don't have ruling yet on the Nolan Carroll or Damien Wilson suspension. Carroll's is especially odd since it happened back in May and is a pretty clear-cut DWI case. Wilson's may be delayed because it's a more serious and complex issue, though when did the NFL suddenly start caring what happened in the courts?
For now, since we don't have anything official yet, Carroll and Wilson are on the Week One roster. Along with Elliott, that leaves 50 more spots. Who got them? Who didn't? Let's find out!
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Kellen Moore
This has been the preseason of Cooper Rush, easily the biggest story and biggest riser on the team over the last four weeks. Starting August as an undrafted rookie who would be lucky to make the practice squad, Rush has secured a spot on the roster and perhaps even supplanted Kellen Moore as the team's primary backup.
The question now is if the team decides to keep Moore. As much as I personally feel he should be cut so the roster spot is freed up for another position, Kellen has a strong advocate in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and has more NFL years than Dak and Rush combined. I think they will keep him around, at least initially, to help his younger teammates.
Running Backs (5)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
CHANGES: Added Elliott
I am going long here because of the threat that Elliott may be lost at some point during the season. If Zeke isn't ready to start Week One, they will just go with the other four guys and have an extra roster spot to use elsewhere.
Dallas would likely lose Rod Smith if they tried to get him to the practice squad. He's still just 25-years-old, had a strong preseason, and would be attractive to more than one style of offense. They would also likely lose Alfred Morris if he was put on waivers. Therefore, they have to go long to secure their assets and insurance policies.
CHANGES: Added Noah Brown
Because I think Rico Gathers is going to injured reserve to start the year (more on that below), a roster spot is open to secure sixth-round rookie Noah Brown. While still raw in many ways, Brown's physical skills are hard to let go. He reminds you of Dez Bryant with how he moves, especially once the ball is in his hands. He also has the physicality to contribute on special teams.
Brice Butler went into camp with uncertainty but locked up his spot was a great summer. He's in a much better position to help the Cowboys win games, especially if an injury happens to the top three guys. You don't let those guys go when you're eyeing a Super Bowl.
Tight Ends (3)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
CHANGES: Removed Rico Gathers (Injured Reserve)
There's a good chance that this is the last time, after 15 years, that I will be putting Jason Witten on a roster projection. Just thought I'd mention that. *sniff*
Rico Gathers has been dealing with a concussion for over two weeks. Because of this, I think the Cowboys put him on Injured Reserve. They will have the option to bring him back after eight weeks if he's ready to go. This works out fairly well for the Cowboys as it secures Gathers spot with the team but also lets them have a roster spot to use somewhere else, like we saw with Noah Brown.
Offensive Tackles (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Emmett Cleary
Collins' move from guard to tackle has been locked in for months now and he should be a darn good one by the end of the year. He's already shown pass protection skills that Doug Free never had. There will be bumps along the road, but the upside is tremendous.
Cleary stabilizes the depth chart as a capable swing tackle. We saw him do well last season in some limited duty and now he's had even more time in the system. Chaz Green also provided some security with his tackle experience. As you'll see, position flexibility is a key for this year's offensive line depth.
Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green
CHANGES: Removed Byron Bell
Bell is another guy the Cowboys may want to keep over that third QB. He provides depth at both guard and tackle. He also gives insurance to Green's ongoing problems with staying healthy. However, the numbers crunch right now doesn't work in Bell's favor.
I think Dallas was rooting for Green, the third-round pick in 2015, to win the left guard position. But his chronic injuries make it hard to trust him with a starting role. Like last year, he will provide versatile depth and could still be in competition with Cooper as the season progresses.
That means Dallas will turn to Jonathan Cooper, the seventh-overall pick in 2013, to replace Ronald Leary. The fact he hasn't one the job outright yet is a concern, but I think Dallas saw him as the fail-safe. They have confidence he can start and were just seeing if Green, the younger upside option, could beat him out. After a disappointing career so far, playing between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick will give Cooper every opportunity to finally realize his potential.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
Looney's ability to play guard or center is just another big help to the line depth. I was actually surprised he didn't get looks at left guard this summer, but he's in that same role that Mackenzy Bernadeau had for several years. Looney is a big reason why Dallas can afford to let Byron Bell go.
That Frederick guy isn't too shabby, either.
Defensive Ends (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Lewis Neal
Lewis Neal, who can play both outside end and inside tackle, gets a roster spot thanks to suspensions. He should at least be here at least through Damontre Moore's two-game ban. If there are any new injuries, he may be able stick around through David Irving's four-game absence and perhaps even longer.
Lawrence is the only end with a clear starting role and larger chunk in the rotation. How the others will be used may depend a lot on matchups and perhaps who simply has the hot hand at a given moment. The end result will likely be no one player with a high sack total, but hopefully Rod Marinelli will be able to increase the team's pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton
These top four were never in doubt. Neither Jordan Carrell or Joey Ivie, the Cowboys two seventh-round rookies, have done enough to threaten one of the veterans. Lewis Neal's ability to play inside, as well as David Irving's when he gets back, leaves no real need for more DT depth. One of Carrell or Ivie, if not both, will be on the practice squad.
Stephen Paea, new to the team as a veteran free agent, has moved past Cedric Thornton and will likely be starting on the base defense. He will be the nose tackle in short-yardage formations and appears to be a strong replacement for Terrell McClain. The combination of Paea and a sophomore Maliek Collins could be the best DT pairing we've had in a while.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha
CHANGES: Added Wilson
The Cowboys got good news that Anthony Hitchens' knee injury, which at first appeared season-ending and then became an eight-week issue, may now be even less severe. They will likely keep him on the roster and as a gameday inactive until he's ready to return. Justin Durant figures to play more in his absence.
I think rookie Joseph Jones will go to the practice squad and may get called up if and when Damien Wilson gets suspended. Hopefully by then, Hitchens will be back and Jaylon Smith will be taking on more responsibility. If it comes quickly, Dallas may need to look for a veteran free agent.
Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis
CHANGES: Removed Marquez White and Duke Thomas, Added Carroll
Duke Thomas would've probably made the team if not for his knee injury, which should put him on Injured reserve. I don't think the team will have room for Marquez White, who would be more of a security stash then someone who could really help you this year. He will hopefully make it to the practice squad and may get called up whenever Carroll has to serve his DWI suspension.
The Cowboys are going to have to live dangerously with Awuzie and Lewis as their depth. Chidobe only played in one preseason game and Lewis will have had none. Hopefully the practice field gave them enough to be able to perform. Dallas will lean heavily on Scandrick, Brown, and Carroll early in the year.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods
Jeff Heath will be starting in Week One but may not be by Week 17. Rookie Xavier Woods keeps making plays and may be pushing Heath out as the season goes along. Both Woods and Kavon Frazier have had good summers and allow the Cowboys to not keep veteran Robert Blanton.
Whoever else is playing at safety, the real key this year is development from Byron Jones. Entering his third season, Jones needs to take the next step from "solid" to "star" in the Cowboys defense. He will make life better for everyone, and especially his fellow starting safety, if he become an elite presence.
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
One the league's best specialist trios is back again. Bailey and Jones are both signed for several years to come and Ladouceur will only be gone when he decides to hang up the cleats. If Ryan Switzer can finally become a consistent weapon as a the return man, life will be good and easy for coach Rich Bisaccia.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys would seem fairly settled at offensive tackle for 2019, with last year's starters both still under contract and set to return. But the need for a reliable backup has become increasingly important, and Dallas may also want to use this offseason to start planning for the future.
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return to their starting roles, but not without some concern. Smith has now missed three games in each of the last three seasons, though a few of those have been for veteran rest at the end of the year.
We all remember the Chaz Green debacle in 2017 Atlanta. That led to the Cowboys paying veteran Cameron Fleming $2.5 million last season to come and play as the swing tackle, and Smith's ongoing issues with health will make his backup an offseason priority once more.
Meanwhile, Collins has started every game since taking over as the right tackle in 2017. He's been solid but not a star, which is a disappointment after his draft year hype and some of the talent he flashed at left guard during his first two seasons.
2019 is a contract year for La'el. He will turn just 27 by the 2020 season, making him an attractive potential free agent. But his play has arguably not lived up to his current salary, which has him as one of the higher-paid right tackles in the NFL already.
Anyone who has the privilege of playing next to Zack Martin has no excuses.
Even with his many trips to the Pro Bowl, Tyron Smith isn't immune to contract talk. The 2020 offseason presents Dallas with about an $8 million cap relief opportunity by releasing Smith. It would only leave them with about $5 million in dead money, which is less than they've had when releasing stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant in recent years.
While still just 28 years old, Tyron has been getting increasingly bothered by nagging injuries. Bad backs and necks tend to become lifelong issues, and we've already mentioned the games he's missed over the last few seasons.
When healthy, Smith is still about as good as they come at left tackle. But could his health issues spark an early decline in skill? And if it happens as soon as 2019, could Dallas start looking at that cap space more intently?
With Cameron Fleming now a free agent and these 2020 question marks looming on both starters, there's a good argument for the Cowboys to spend their second or third-round pick at offensive tackle.
Ideally, a "Day 2" rookie would be able to take over as the swing tackle this year. Dallas could still sign a veteran insurance policy to compete in camp and the preseason, or even carry both players next season.
But more important aspect would be taking a player now to groom for 2020, when you might need to make a big decision on either Collins or Smith's future. Or, at the very least, have a solid swing tackle in place for the duration of his four-year rookie contract.
That said, free agency starts a month-and-a-half before the NFL Draft. The Cowboys can't really afford to wait for the draft to find a swing tackle, or else they may wind up with nothing.
The simplest move would be to just re-sign Cam Fleming. He is an adequate player with plenty of experience, and could likely be retained for about the same salary as last year.
But given Fleming's age (26) and experience, which includes starting in playoff games and even a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he could attract teams looking for even more than just a backup. Thankfully, there a still a number of veterans out there if Dallas has to find a replacement.
One guy to consider, especially for just a one-year deal, is Ty Nsekhe from the Redskins. He's a native of Arlington, TX and has started 14 games over the last three seasons, backing up the oft-injured Trent Williams. On the negative side, Nsekhe turns 34 next October.
As a whole, this 2019 offseason doesn't present any immediate dangers. The Cowboys will need to figure out their swing tackle situation by either re-signing Fleming, adding a different veteran, or drafting a replacement.
But given the contract situations of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in 2020, Dallas could make a move in the next few months to help prepare for a potential big change a year from now.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker
One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.
Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.
But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.
What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.
It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.
Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.
Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.
A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.
However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.
They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.
The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.
Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.
Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.
There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.
Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit
There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.
Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.
The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.
That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.
Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.
The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.
This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.
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