Some weeks bring major changes to our roster projections, and some weeks only confirm what we already believed. The last two preseason games have definitely provided more confirmation than new evidence, meaning that this updated projection has very little difference from the last one.
Once again, here is a quick recap of the Cowboys' suspension situation:
- 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)
Elliott's appeal is scheduled for April 29th and the NFL will almost surely rule on his status before Week One. At that point it will be up to Zeke if he's going to seek an injunction and take it to the courts. While this is a very real possibility and perhaps even the most likely scenario, we're going to work with the current information.
Even though we don't have anything official yet on Carroll or Wilson, their situations don't leave much room for clemency. It's not a matter of if, but when, for them to get their suspensions. In Wilson's case, it's possible the legal situation will have to play out more before the league takes action. That means he may be available for Week One, but then goes away mid-season.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Kellen Moore
CHANGES: Added Cooper Rush
At this point there's no question that Cooper Rush will make the Cowboys 53-man roster. He has been one of the league's best quarterbacks this preseason and would be snatched up immediately if Dallas tried to get him to the practice squad. While there may be some recency bias here, I can't remember guys like Matt Moore or Alex Tanney looking as good as Rush has.
The real question now is what Dallas does with Kellen Moore and the backup position. They could still keep Moore as QB2 and just secure Rush with a roster spot. They could make Rush the primary backup and keep Moore around for his experience and the way he helps with game preparation. They even have the surprising option of putting Moore on the practice squad.
Indeed, the Cowboys may still decide to go with just two quarterbacks on the roster. If that happens, it won't be Cooper Rush who suffers. He's earned his spot the old-fashioned way, playing so well that he's impossible to ignore.
Running Backs (4)
Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
If Elliott is suspended to start the year then this one is easy to call. Ronnie Hillman had a nice touchdown play last night but otherwise hasn't done enough to merit a spot. Keith Smith appears to be expanding his offensive role with some new receiving opportunities and there's no question he's making the team.
The most interesting scenario is if Zeke's appeal makes him eligible to start the year but only defers the suspension. If Dallas fears losing him at some point during the season, they may have to keep all four RBs in preparation. Rod Smith could go back to the practice squad, but another good preseason game on Thursday and they may not want to take that chance. We saw how quickly Darius Jackson got snatched up last year.
CHANGES: Removed Noah Brown
The decision to keep Cooper Rush at QB comes with a price somewhere else on the roster, and it's rookie Noah Brown who had to pay the bill. The top five at receiver are clear and the Cowboys likely wouldn't have the sixth guy active on game days.
Even if they do keep six, I can't say with certainty now that Noah Brown would be the guy. We've seen plays made by fellow rookies Brian Brown and Lance Lenoir. There are also Andy Jones and Uzoma Nwachukwu in the mix. We don't know all of the things these guys have done on the practice field that might sway the coaches.
For now, though, I see all of these guys competing for the practice squad. One will certainly be there and maybe even two. Perhaps Thursday's preseason finale will help to clear things up a bit.
Tight Ends (4)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Barring any new injuries, this group is locked in for 2017. The only thing left to determine is who gets the most snaps after Jason Witten, and we may see all three guys used fairly evenly throughout the year. Hanna and Swaim both have run-blocking advantages over Gathers, but Rico has the mismatch element in the passing game. It's a nice problem for Scott Linehan to have.
Offensive Tackles (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Emmett Cleary
Another position that appears set; the starters are obvious and Cleary looks to have secured the swing tackle role now that Chaz Green is getting looks at guard and still having injury problems. While Green and Byron Bell do offer some position flexibility as options at tackle, Cleary probably has the most trust going forward.
Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Byron Bell
CHANGES: Added Bell
With the last projection I cut Bell because of the position flex that Chaz Green offers as a tackle or guard. However, the ongoing uncertainty at left guard and with Green's injuries mean the Cowboys probably need to go a little long with nine total linemen. At this point, Bell might even be the starting guard in Week One; things are still that unsettled.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
I'm surprised we haven't seen Looney more in the competition for left guard, but that would create another hole for a backup center. That's not to say he isn't being considered, but you can see why Dallas wants for one of the other guys to win that job outright and not force them to move other pieces around and create a new opening.
Defensive Ends (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Lewis Neal
CHANGES: Removed Lenny Jones, Added Neal
The Cowboys are still experimenting with who plays where, and this may not really matter with how much Rod Marinelli will mix things up throughout the season. Other than Lawrence getting a heavy number of snaps as his health and performance allow, it's hard to predict who will get more playing time from this group. Damontre Moore and David Irving will further deepen the rotation as they return.
It's a toss-up right now between Lewis Neal and Lenny Jones for that final spot on the defensive line. Right now I'm going with Neal because he has the size to play inside or out, which we saw last night against the Raiders. Having a second guy like that helps with Tyrone Crawford likely to be playing at defensive end some during the suspensions, if not all season.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton
Another locked-in position in terms of who makes the team, but Paea has been working his way into a larger role since camp began. It's not surprising given his history with Rod Marinelli in Chicago; the veteran has been starting over Thornton during preseason. It's another tough break for Cedric, who last year got benched because of the surprising emergence of a healthy Terrell McClain and rookie standout Maliek Collins.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha
CHANGES: Removed John Lotulelei
We're waiting for confirmation on Hitchens' knee injury and so far it's not looking good. If he does end up on IR, rookie Joseph Jones is probably the strongest candidate right now for the roster spot. Given their other issues with Damien Wilson's likely suspension and Jaylon Smith's ongoing reintroduction to football, it's possible Dallas will look to free agency. If you were one of those hoping Dallas would sign Daryl Washington, that door may have just been reopened.
Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Marquez White, Duke Thomas
We are assuming that Nolan Carroll will be get a suspension to start the year after his DWI arrest last May. That means the Cowboys will be relying heavily on their young guys, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis, to take on major responsibility. Thankfully, veteran leader Orlando Scandrick is still around and appears to be fully healthy as the season gets closer.
Duke Thomas left last night's game with what appears to be a minor injury. He's had a nice camp and preseason and I'm keeping him on the roster for now. Dallas certainly needs to go long at cornerback with Awuzie and Lewis still limited by hamstring issues. Hopefully they get some run on Thursday night, because the Giants will be in town pretty damn soon.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods
Dallas probably would like to keep veteran Robert Blanton but just don't have the numbers. They will hope that Jones and Heath stay healthy and the young guys can stay on the bench and special teams. Blanton will likely be on the short list of guys they call during the year if an injury occurs.
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
There's little doubt about these three. Bailey is under contract until we start colonizing Mars and Chris Jones just got a new four-year extension. They do have long snapper Zach Wood back here for a second offseason, but this is likely just to give L.P. Ladouceur some rest. There's almost zero chance of the veteran being ousted.
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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