We're a week removed from the 2017 NFL Draft. With all of the picks and the wave of undrafted free agent signings now known, it's a good time to take stock of the Cowboys roster and see what it may look like after final cuts.
Obviously, a lot will happen between now and the end of preseason. Injuries and surprising play, for good or bad, can move guys up and down the depth chart. What we think of some of these guys now could change dramatically after a big preseason performance.
That said, we'll do the best we can. Here is my best guess, based on current information, at the Cowboys 53-man roster come Week One.
Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
With no draft picks spent on a developmental QB, Dallas will likely go back to the days of having just two passers on the active roster. They did sign Florida's Austin Appleby and Central Michigan's Cooper Rush as undrafted free agents, one of whom will likely be on the practice squad next year.
Barring injuries or a very unexpected surge from one of the rookies, Prescott and Moore should go unchallenged in their roles. Despite his 2015 struggles and missed time last year, Dallas still thought enough to bring Kellen back and leave him without any real competition for the backup job. It's a vote of confidence from the front office, even if many fans don't share it.
Running Backs (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
With Elliott getting workhorse carries it takes some of the pressure off the rest of the depth chart. Once he came off the Non-Football Injury list last year, McFadden was clearly the number-two back and pushed Alfred Morris into oblivion. As I wrote about yesterday, I don't expect Morris to make the 2017 roster.
Rod Smith provides far better value as a third running back than Morris. He has been a strong special teams player and gives a short-yardage option in case Zeke's not available. After last year, he could also serve as a backup fullback.
There won't be any competition at FB this year, though, as Keith Smith emerged as a solid starter. He doesn't get the same number of snaps as some of the top FBs in the league, but Smith shows up as a run-blocker and provides versatility both on special teams and as an emergency linebacker.
The top three were never in doubt. To the surprise of many, Dallas re-signed Williams to a four-year deal and will have all of the same primary skill-position players on the offense. As Stephen Jones said in a recent press conference, they did not foresee being able to draft or sign anyone who could give them an upgrade so bringing Terrance back made the most sense.
Dallas used a fourth-round pick to add North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, who should knock Lucky Whitehead off the roster as the new primary return man. He has been compared to Cole Beasley (and all the other small white receivers) and should compete for targets immediately.
I had a tough time deciding between Noah Brown and Brice Butler. Ultimately, I went with Brown given his raw ability and what he could be after the coaches get their hands on him. Dallas seems ready to move on from Butler, giving him a minimal one-year deal that felt like nothing more than insurance. As long as Brown or another young guy, like Andy Jones, step up then Butler should be gone.
Tight Ends (4)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
This foursome has felt set for a while. While Dallas could have used a high pick on Witten's eventual replacement, it's always seemed more prudent to use 2017 to see just what all of these current options can really do. If a young guy like Swaim or Gathers can really blossom, you may have found your answer for a fraction of the cost.
We should not dismiss James Hanna, either. Dallas clearly thought highly of him last year when they re-signed him for almost $3 million per season. Hanna is the best blocking TE and has the athleticism to be dangerous in the receiving game. He will have to fight off the youngsters for his spot, but Hanna has the skills to do it.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Tyron Smith, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, Byron Bell
Doug Free's retirement left a big question mark on the right end of the Cowboys' offensive line. I was content with a competition between Green and Cleary for the job, but Dallas also signed veteran Byron Bell as another contender.
Chaz Green will have the advantage as a former third-round pick. Teams are naturally biased towards drafted players, particularly when they went that high. That will be the tiebreaker if everything's even between Chaz and the other two guys.
The nice thing with Bell is that he could also play guard, giving him versatility that should preserve a roster spot even if he doesn't win the starting job. Given Chaz Green's injury history, I see them keeping Cleary around also.
Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Jonathan Cooper
While we may regret having to lose Ronald Leary in free agency, the picture above reminds us that La'el Collins is seen as a first-round talent. This was always his job; only an injury kept him away from it last year. Now he has to play up that level to reward the Cowboys' faith.
As long as he can stay healthy and motivated, Jonathan Cooper should hold down the backup job. He's a former first-round pick who's had bad luck with injuries and never finding the right fit. If he really stands out, there's potential for him to earn a starting role while Collins gets moved out to right tackle. That's another reason why Byron Bell's potential as an interior player comes in handy.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
There's not much to say at this spot. Frederick is as entrenched as they get with his long-term deal and 1st-team All-Pro status. He, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin will all be Cowboys longer than most guys on the current roster.
Joe Looney feels secure as the backup center but could see competition from Jonathan Cooper. I expect both to make the team, though, as veteran options for a team looking to make a championship run.
Defensive Ends (4)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton
Four may seem light but keep in mind that David Irving and Tyrone Crawford have flexibility to play DE as well. These are clearly the top four options as outside rushers, though, and how the snaps get divided will be interesting to track all season.
We've seen Lawrence play at a high level, getting seven sacks in the final eight games of 2015. If he can avoid injury and get back to that then he may still earn a contract extension. However, Dallas didn't spend a first-round pick on Taco Charlton for nothing. Even if Lawrence has a good year, he may still get forced out by the rookie.
Charles Tapper brings plenty of intrigue, as well. Many felt he played out of position in college and will blossom as a 4-3 end. He will get every opportunity to do so as Rod Marinelli will keep tinkering until he finds the most potent mix.
Defensive Tackle (5)
David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea
This position is loaded with solid players but now we need someone to emerge as a star. The best candidates for that are Irving and Collins, who were both flashing greatness last season.
This season could be the last for all three veterans. Both Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton could be cap casualties in 2018 and Stephen Paea was signed to just a one-year deal. If the young players emerge as we hope then these three may all be competing for a single spot as a veteran reserve next year.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Jeremiah George
The Cowboys did not add any significant linebacker talent in the draft, as some thought they would, so this group should remain intact. Jaylon Smith's debut will likely be the most anticipated of any new face, even among our 2017 rookies and free agents.
Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson should battle for the SAM spot. Wilson was really coming on last year and probably has the edge, especially since Hitchens is in the final year of his contract. I expect Hitch to stick around as a primary backup, though, regardless of what happens.
Given injury concerns for Smith and Mark Nzeocha, I think Dallas will keep a seventh guy on the roster. I went with Jeremiah George given his experience (21 games played) and work as a special teams player. That spot is wide open, though, for a less established prospect to emerge.
Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis
This may be the most interesting position now on the whole roster. The early picks spent on Awuzie and Lewis bring intrigue and competition. The rumblings that Scandrick might get traded could affect his play, for good or bad. And all eyes will be on Anthony Brown as we hope he builds on a standout rookie year to become a top corner.
Even with the youth infusion, I expect Nolan Carroll to stick around as a veteran backup. He signed a three-year deal and should do well in our scheme.
Sixth-round rookie Marquez White could push for a roster spot but, I'm afraid, just can't fight these numbers. Ten defensive backs is already a lot. Dallas will hope they can stash him on the practice squad, but that could be difficult given his profile.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Robert, Blanton, Xavier Woods
Dallas went with five safeties last year, mostly because they were trying to keep Frazier secure as a developmental player. They may be in the same position again with Xavier Woods.
While he will have to fight for it, Jeff Heath should be your Week One starter. Veteran addition Robert Blanton could contend but is more likely to be an experienced backup and special teamer. He will have to outplay Frazier and Woods, though, to earn a job. Dallas would love to open up a roster spot if they can.
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
There's little doubt about these three. The one thing to watch is that Jones and Ladouceur are both on expiring contracts. Dallas should bring in young guys as camp bodies, but if one of them really stands out then things might get interesting. Dallas could decide hanging on to the younger prospect is more prudent.
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.
Star Blog4 days ago
Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Dallas Cowboys Offense
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys C Travis Frederick Provides Update on Recovery, 2019 Return
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Dak Prescott Won’t Give A “Hometown Discount,” Nor Should He
Star Blog1 week ago
Should the Cowboys Try to Pry RB Duke Johnson Away From Cleveland?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Do the Dallas Cowboys Need a Veteran Backup QB in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Ride With Kicker Brett Maher in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
What Options Do the Cowboys Have With WR Allen Hurns in 2019?