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.
Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue
The fallout from Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday remains to be seen. Whether or not it costs him a roster spot is hard to say, but a suspension is likely. Whatever the case, veteran Deonte Thompson stands to be the biggest beneficiary of Terrance's issues.
Signed last March to a minimal one-year, $1.8 million contract, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer who only last season got some notice in Buffalo. Given the limitations of the Bills' passing game with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Dallas clearly hopes that Deonte could do more with a more traditional offense and passer.
The Cowboys acquisition of Thompson was quickly overshadowed after they picked up Allen Hurns just a few weeks later. Deonte was actually signed just a couple of days after Hurns' release from Jacksonville, so it's fair to question if Dallas would have even signed him if they'd already picked up Hurns.
Even with Dez Bryant's release, the depth chart still didn't look good for Thompson. He was clearly behind Hurns and Cole Beasley and was likely battling with Terrance Williams for targets. Once the team drafted Michael Gallup in the third round, things looked even worse for the veteran.
But now, if Williams is going to miss time or be gone completely, Deonte Thompson could find himself with a big role to start the year.
While Gallup is exciting, he's also a rookie. Thompson has been a starter the last few years and played in a few different systems. Dallas may lean on his experience early if Terrance is gone either temporarily or permanently.
One reason the Cowboys brought Deonte in was for speed, and that value doesn't change regardless of who else is on the roster. Essentially, Thompson is the new Brice Butler; intriguing qualities but just no consistent production at other stops.
If Deonte can do more with what Dallas throws him than Butler did, he might carve out a steady role. Brice always seemed to follow up his big plays with blunders, never gaining any real momentum during his time as a Cowboy.
Before Williams' arrest, there was a legitimate question as to whether or not Thompson would even make the 2018 roster. If younger prospects like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir made noise, perhaps Dallas would've just let the 29-year-old walk.
But with Terrance's availability now the big question, Thompson's experience becomes vastly more important. It could mean a big early role in 2018.
Depending on what he does with his opportunity, Deonte Thompson could've gone from an offseason afterthought to a major part of the team's success.
Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?
This will hardly be the last article written about the wide receivers of the Dallas Cowboys entering the 2018 season. However, we can only hope it's the last off-field incident that will factor into the difficult decisions the Cowboys will make on their final depth chart at WR. Yesterday, veteran Wide Receiver Terrance Williams was arrested for public intoxication after leaving the scene of a crash involving his Lamborghini.
Cowboys WR Terrance Williams released a statement on his recent arrest detailing several facets of the incident: "I have always been an upstanding citizen and handled the situation the best way I know how.
Details concerning the severity of the incidents that led to Williams arrest remain somewhat unclear. His on-field production certainly has not been though, putting himself in an expendable position by failing to catch a touchdown in 2017 and only going for over 100 yards once.
Handling this Terrance Williams situation in whatever the "right way" is will be yet another critical decision the Cowboys make under Head Coach Jason Garrett. A team that has clearly valued continuity under Garrett, there is precedent for the Cowboys keeping a now-troubled player like Williams if the void he'd leave behind is too large.
It is widely believed that this is a Cowboys coaching staff working to keep their jobs in 2018. Losing Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams in one offseason may very well be too much.
Already dealing with a broken foot that expects to keep Terrance Williams out of football activities until training camp though, it is becoming increasingly easier for Williams to become forgotten about in new WR Coach Sanjay Lal's room.
New additions to this unit include FA signings Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, along with rookies Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Joined by the likes of KD Cannon, Lance Lenoir, and Malik Earl, all of these receivers are going to stake their claims for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys before Williams even catches another pass from Dak Prescott.
Once perceived to be fighting for positions below Hurns, Williams, and Cole Beasley as locks on the final 53 man roster, Williams' arrest is the epitome of "next man up" in Dallas. Even if Williams remains with the team in 2018 - as cutting him would only make moral sense for the Cowboys, not financial - his days as a starting receiver may very well be numbered.
As mentioned, this won't be the first look we have at the status of the Cowboys receivers. I'm already on record having high expectations for Michael Gallup, and believe Cedrick Wilson was one of the steals of the draft for the Cowboys in the sixth round. The unproven nature of this pass catching unit (through to TE with rookie Dalton Schultz) is going to make for fascinating training camp battles, competing for spots in an offense that could still be one of the league's best.
Terrance Williams Arrest: Salary Cap Impact if Released
The news of Cowboys Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday sent a shockwave through an otherwise quiet mid-May news cycle. Many fans are wondering what the team might do, and what effect the decision could have on Dallas' salary cap.
Unfortunately, moving on from Terrance won't bring the team any cap relief. But given their current cap space and where we are in the offseason, the Cowboys should have the freedom to cut the receiver if they choose to.
Depending on who you ask (OverTheCap, Spotrac), the Cowboys have somewhere between $5-$9 million in current cap room. If they release Williams before June 1st, his cap hit accelerates from $4.75 million to $7.25 million in dead money. That means he counts $2.5 million more off the team than on it.
If Terrance is cut on June 1st on later, the 2018 dead money is $4.75 million for a net-zero wash. That extra $2.5 million counts against 2019.
While that may sound cost-prohibitive on the surface, you have to remember where we are in the offseason. May is very different from March when you're talking about cap space.
Free agency is essentially over. The Cowboys don't need to worry too much about their 2018 cap room at this point, so they can absorb Williams' dead money if they want to cut him loose.
Martin's 2018 cap hit is currently around $9 million. Once he signs his new long-term deal, which is almost sure to come before training camp, that number should go down significantly. Dallas can do an immediate Year One restructure and potentially create around $6 million in cap space.
That alone would facilitate cutting Terrance Williams, but then they also have the hopeful new deal for Lawrence. The $17 million that Lawrence currently counts as a franchised player will go way down with a long-term contract. If Dallas can get that done, they may not have to touch Martin's deal.
The point here is that while cutting Williams is not a financially beneficial move, the money shouldn't stop the Cowboys if they don't want him around anymore.
If Terrance has proven anything during his five years in Dallas, it's that he doesn't have the talent to step into a primary role. With new arrival Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley both showing they can produce at a high level at times, plus exciting rookie Michael Gallup now in the mix, the Cowboys' season hardly relies on Williams' presence.
Of course, the Cowboys have a history of sticking by their guys during times of personal problems. Josh Brent did way worse than Terrance and remained supported by the organization.
But each situation and player are different, and the coaches may have already soured on Williams after a lackluster 2017. They may have only kept him because of those cap numbers we discussed before.
Terrance's latest dropped ball may have been the final straw, though. If so, the salary cap shouldn't stop Dallas from cutting him.
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