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.
5 Worst Contracts for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have done great work the last few years of shedding bad contracts and getting out of "salary cap hell." However, even this relative fiscal paradise of 2019 isn't perfect. Today, we're going to look at the five worst deals that Dallas still has on the books.
These contracts are only active as of now, in the middle of May, and could be gone by the time we gets to Week One. We'll discuss those possibilities as we go through each player.
What you'll realize fairly quickly with this exercise is that it's a stretch to even say the Cowboys have five "bad" contracts on the team at this point. That's how well the front office has done in learning from the past and getting things to a much more manageable and equitable point throughout the roster.
Maybe that changes in a few years. Some of the big contracts on our All-Pro offensive linemen may lose value as those players start to decline with age and/or health issues. Or perhaps the upcoming new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will turn out to be retrospective mistakes.
But those are conversations and articles for future offseason. For here and now, 2019, here are the five worst contracts on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
DL Tyrone Crawford - $10.1 million cap hit
I know I've been picking on Crawford a lot lately, but that's what happens when you have easily the worst contract on the roster. Tyrone has the second-highest cap hit on the defense and sixth overall on the entire team, and that's an obvious imbalance compared to where he ranks among the Cowboys' top players.
This situation isn't Crawford's fault. Dallas thought they were making a shrewd move by giving Tyrone a sizable contract back in 2015. They expected him to blossom as the 3-tech DT under Rod Marinelli.
That boom never happened, and as a result Crawford's contract ultimately became a bust. He's been valuable as a leader and having DE/DT flex, but he's never been a top player on defense even when he was the highest paid.
I wrote more extensively on what Tyrone's future with the Cowboys might be, especially with the June-1st date looming for potential roster cuts. His job security has taken some big hits lately with the drafting of Trysten Hill and now legal issues, which could result in a minor suspension for Crawford in 2019.
We'll see if Tyrone Crawford makes it to the 2019 roster. He still has value with his versatility and generally solid play, but that overpaying contract could ultimately be his demise.
WR Allen Hurns - $6.25 million cap hit
The only other contract which is truly "bad" for the Cowboys belongs to veteran receiver Allen Hurns. It gives him the 11th-highest cap hit on the roster, and this for a guy who projects to be no higher than fourth on the WR depth chart.
The week before free agency opened in March, Dallas picked up an option to keep Hurns in 2019. It's always felt like an insurance move; Hurns can be released with just $1.25 million in dead money at any point this offseason.
Dallas is likely hanging onto Hurns until they get through the preseason without any injuries to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. It'd be nice to have Allen if something happens to them; he has plenty of starting experience and can be an every-down receiver. Guys like Randall Cobb or Tavon Austin aren't built that way, while Noah Brown isn't experienced enough.
Assuming everyone gets to September intact then I expect Hurns will be released. It's hard to imagine Dallas carrying him as a backup with that cap hit, and especially if they have younger guys like Brown or Cedrick Wilson that they want to utilize.
So no, Hurns' contract shouldn't cost the Cowboys for long. If he stays then it's because he's needed for a starting role, in which case $6 million is reasonable. But if he's going to spend most of the year on the sideline, Dallas has an easy out that I expect they'll utilize soon.
LB Sean Lee - $6 million cap hit
This is another one where how bad the contract is could shift depending on how much the player is needed in 2019. Even with a negotiated pay cut, Sean Lee's still making more than most of the starting defense.
Paying Lee this much to play SAM and then backup Smith and Vander Esch on the nickel is a bit high, even for what he brings as a mentor and coach on the field. But Dallas was willing to overpay for the intangibles, plus the hope that Lee could still play at a high level if called upon.
The biggest concern with Sean Lee, as it's ever been, is his health. He can still ball but has reverted to injury-prone issues in recent seasons. Perhaps a lesser role with fewer snaps will help in that area.
Again, I don't even know if I'd call this a "bad" deal. We have yet to see how much Dallas plans to rotate Lee with their young studs, and he brings things to the LB room that a guy like Damien Wilson never could.
The major liability here is if Lee gets hurt, in which case Dallas basically has a solid chunk of cap space tied up in an assistant coach.
TE Jason Witten - $4.25 million cap hit
You can apply some similar logic to Witten's deal from what we just discussed with Sean Lee. If he contributes on the field then it's not a bad deal. But if age and time away from the game have caused Jason's skills to slip too far, then this is a lot of money to pay for a backup TE.
Like Lee, Witten will hopefully offer a great deal as a mentor for Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and any other young tight ends. He can't make them any more talented, but he can at least help maximize whatever potential they have.
But again, without actual on-field contributions, that mean you're spending valuable salary cap space on coaching. That money could've gone to someone like Jared Cook for a more simple and immediate boost to your offensive firepower.
As we said at the outset, most of these contracts are only conditionally bad. If Witten's year off allowed him to heal and rest and come back with renewed vigor in 2019, then it could wind up being a great deal for the Cowboys.
Father Time may ultimately be undefeated, but he doesn't win every round. Hopefully Jason can fight him off for at least one more year.
DE Taco Charlton - $2.74 million cap hit
Taco's disappointing start to his NFL career has made his rookie contact, which is usually team-friendly, a bit of dead weight on the Cowboys' books. Unless Charlton take a big step forward this year, the Cowboys are stuck paying him like a significant contributor for the next two seasons.
Dallas would get no cap relief cutting Taco this year; his cap hit stays roughly the same if cut after June 1st. It would also push another $1.35 million in dead money onto 2020. Therefore, unless the situation between team and player has become truly toxic, or a trade partner emerges, the Cowboys should hang on to their 2017 first-round pick at least thru 2019.
Ideally, Charlton will emerge this year as a more consistent and motivated roleplayer. There's little chance that he'll start with Robert Quinn coming in, but Charlton could still claim the role of a major rotation piece if he's had some more development.
If that happens, Taco's deal will become far less worrisome. That's a modest salary for a solid backup at most positions, and especially at defensive end.
If Charlton doesn't improve, though, Dallas will finally be able to get some savings if they cut his deal in 2020. In that scenario, he probably isn't around long enough to make this list a year from now.
~ ~ ~
What makes a contract bad or good is subjective. You might look at those huge cap hits on deals for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence or Zack Martin and think they're the biggest problems. But if you're getting All-Pro play at fair market value, you really can't criticize those salary numbers.
It will be interesting to see what happens the next few years with guys like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, whose health issues could change how we perceive their contracts. Both are still young enough to play at a high level, but could we adding one of them to this list in the next year or two?
A few years from now, we make look back on 2019 as an anomaly. Having to reach to find enough contracts to make this list is a great problem to have.
I just hope it stays that way.
Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority
Despite adding Tony Pollard and Mike Weber through the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys still don't have a clear-cut running back to back up Ezekiel Elliott this season. I like the upside of both of these rookies, but I think it would be wise on the Cowboys part to bring in a more established player to become their RB2 this season.
Enter Jay Ajayi, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins running back.
I really believe Running Back Jay Ajayi is exactly the kind of RB2 the Dallas Cowboys need, and currently don't have, to backup Ezekiel Elliott this year. He's an established veteran with a proven track record, but has unfortunately struggled with injuries throughout his career. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward kind of move Dallas likes to make when signing free agents.
We all know the Cowboys like to sign free agents on their own terms. That usually means they are cost-effective players that won't impact the compensatory pick formula. Surprisingly, Jay Ajayi fits into both of those categories right now.
Signing Ajayi shouldn't break the bank for the Dallas Cowboys. They should be able to sign him on a one-year prove it deal because of his recent injury history. He sustained a torn ACL early in the season last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but is supposed to be ready by the time the 2019 season kicks off.
I don't know what you or the Dallas Cowboys think about this, but I think all of this makes just too much sense for it not to happen. The Cowboys would be getting a starting caliber RB to backup Zeke and Ajayi would be receiving a great opportunity to potentially resurrect his career.
Now, I know Ajayi is probably holding out for a starting job for some NFL team, but I just don't see that happening for him. Coming to Dallas and forming an excellent 1-2 punch with Ezekiel Elliott is an opportunity he shouldn't pass up, especially with Zeke's recent off the field incident where he was handcuffed/detained (not arrested) at a musical festival in Las Vegas.
The NFL has shown in the past they are willing to throw the book at Zeke, despite little to no evidence supporting their case. This most recent incident allows the league to do just that once again, meaning No. 21 could be looking at a possible suspension.
With that in mind, the Cowboys backup RB situation is even more concerning. I don't think I would completely trust Tony Pollard or Mike Weber to handle the workload in Zeke's potential absence. Jay Ajayi on the other hand is a different story. I don't think there would be much of a dip in production with him in a lineup.
Like I said earlier though, I don't know where the Dallas Cowboys stand in regards to Jay Ajayi, but this really seems like a win-win situation for everybody involved. If I were the one making the decisions, I would get on the phone with Ajayi's representatives immediately to try to bring him aboard.
Do you like the idea of Jay Ajayi as Ezekiel Elliott's backup running back?
Dallas Cowboys Should Pursue Recently Released DT Gerald McCoy
The Dallas Cowboys have been reinforcing their defensive interior all offseason and look to be in a good position as they get ready to begin offseason training activities and minicamp. Yesterday, I wrote about the possibility of trading for New York Jets Defensive Tackle Leonard Williams. Another defensive tackle has now become available, long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy.
Per a report from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs are going to release McCoy after nine seasons with the club.
BREAKING: DT Gerald McCoy has been informed by the Bucs of their plans to release him after nine seasons. The team decided not to pay him the $13-million salary he was owed for 2019.
McCoy is the definition of a cap casualty as he was set to make $13 million on the cap this year. At age 30 in 2018, McCoy still had six sacks as the Buccaneers 3-technique defensive tackle.
Throughout his career, he's been one of the more productive defensive tackles in the league. From 2012 to 2017 he was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2013.
Since 2012, McCoy's averaged 7.2 sacks, 36.8 total tackles, 9.85 tackles for loss, and 17.85 quarterback hits a season. Over the last three seasons, McCoy's averaged just under seven sacks a season. In 2018, he finished with 38 total pressures, which was 19th among all interior defensive linemen. Only Tyrone Crawford from the Cowboys had nearly as many total pressures on the interior with 37.
Though the Cowboys have brought in Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill to fortify a defensive interior with Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Tyrone Crawford, Gerald McCoy would make an excellent addition to their rotation. Mike Fisher of 247 Sports is reporting that the Cowboys currently have "very little interest" in the defensive tackle.
That's plausible. The Dallas Cowboys have a ton of depth on the defensive line at the moment, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't pursue a talented player such as Gerald McCoy. McCoy has been an excellent 3-tech but also has the size to contribute at 1-tech on passing downs if you need him to.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has a ton of depth and it may not make sense to bring in a guy like McCoy, but they should. Much like the trade for Robert Quinn, you're putting your eggs in the 2019 Super Bowl basket and trying to maximize the talent that you have on the roster this year. They're a team primed to make a deep run in January and McCoy can help them do that.
As in everything, it will come down to the price tag. However, given that the Dallas Cowboys currently have just under $20 million available on the 2019 salary cap, they can get a deal done with McCoy and continue working on the long-term contracts for their star core of players.
Gerald McCoy makes the defense better. He's another guy along the defensive line, in addition to DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, that the offensive line has to think about. He makes things easier for everyone at every level of the defense and shouldn't cost a ton to sign on a one-year deal.
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