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Cowboys 2017 Roster Projection: Training Camp Begins

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys 2017 Roster Projection: Training Camp Begins
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the first practice of training camp happening this afternoon, I thought it a fine time to post my next 2017 roster projection. The first one was done about a week after the draft, and plenty has happened over the last two months.

Since early May, we've had too many players in the news for the wrong reasons. One suspension is already confirmed a few more are likely. Here's a quick recap:

  • DL David Irving, 4 games (PED violation) *CONFIRMED*
  • CB Nolan Carroll, 2 games (DWI arrest) (probable)
  • LB Damien Wilson, ? games (Assault arrest) (probable)
  • CB Jourdan Lewis, ? games (DV charges) (pending court case)
  • RB Ezekiel Elliott, ? games (Various issues) (unknown)

This doesn't include defensive end Randy Gregory, who is gone for the year and perhaps for good after repeated drug policy violations. Damien Wilson could be facing a major suspension depending on the details of his case, but the start may not come for some time depending on the movement of the legal system.

The point is that the Cowboys' Week One roster may look a fair bit different from the majority of the season while these suspensions play out. Guys will make the team to fill out the 53 for those early weeks but then wind up on the practice squad or the open market. For now, here's my best guess at what the team will look like.

Quarterbacks (2)

Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore

CHANGES: None

I recently addressed the topic of Dallas potentially keeping a potential third QB in more detail. Suffice to say that neither Zac Dysert or Cooper Rush currently looks like a candidate to make the 53. The Cowboys generally go with just their starter and a veteran backup, using that third spot only to hold on to a significant developmental prospect.

Of course, the events of last season may have shifted their viewpoint. Tony Romo and Kellen Moore had to get hurt to open the door for Dak Prescott. While Prescott doesn't present the same injury concerns as Romo did, having to rely on QB3 last year might prompt Dallas to be more concerned about the position now. I don't expect it, but I don't dismiss it entirely.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Running Backs (4)

Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)

CHANGES: None

I am going with the assumption that Elliott does not get suspended at all.  At the most, he might get a fine for going Justin Timberlake on that girl's shirt on St. Patrick's Day.  Otherwise, there doesn't appear to be enough on either the domestic violence case or the nightclub incident for the NFL to levy a suspension.

Elliott, McFadden, and Keith Smith appear to have their positions locked up. I think Keith's value as a solid blocker as well as special teams player makes him hard to cut. He can even play linebacker for you in a pinch.

Rod Smith gets the nod over Alfred Morris and Jahad Thomas right now. He can be a short-yardage thumper, has some receiving skills, and is a solid special teams player. Thomas is more of a Lance Dunbar clone who will have a harder time getting on the field with Elliott and McFadden's receiving ability.  Morris struggled last year and offers no special teams value.

Receivers (6)

Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown

CHANGES: Added Butler

The top three veterans and fourth-round rookie Ryan Switzer are all locks.  The only questions now are if the Cowboys keep five or six receivers and who will earn those spots.

While young prospects Noah Brown and Andy Jones could be competitive for roster spots, Dallas may be hesitant to lose the veteran Butler given Dez Bryant's injury issues. I think this prompts them to go long, keeping Butler for experience but also wanting to use a spot to protect their favorite prospect. I am giving Brown the benefit of the doubt for now.

Jason Witten

TE Jason Witten

Tight Ends (4)

Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

It's entirely possible that Dallas will only keep three tight ends, but they have plenty of reason to go long. 2017 is likely Jason Witten's last year, meaning all three backups could be useful next season. You also have Hanna and Swaim coming off injuries, which increases the need for a fourth option.

I think that 2017 will be a year-long audition for Hanna and Swaim to show if they can replace Witten next season or at least solidify themselves as the backup. Both missed a lot of time last year and may need more than just camp and preseason to get back to full speed.

How Rico Gathers performs in camp and preseason will be a major factor. Obviously, proving he can contribute should earn him a roster spot. Even if he still has major weaknesses, just a couple of big plays in preseason could be enough that Dallas won't risk him on the practice squad again.

La'el Collins

OT La'el Collins

Offensive Tackles (3)

Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Chaz Green

CHANGES: Moved Collins from G, Cut Emmett Cleary

It appears that Collins is the new right tackle, at least for the start of camp. I'm going with the assumption that "Plan A" of Collins at tackle and Jonathan Cooper at left guard will work out. That then leaves the swing tackle position, like last year, between Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary.

It's important to remember that Green was a third-round pick just two years ago. Dallas wants him to succeed and that gives him a tiebreaker over Cleary and other contenders. Byron Bell could also be a factor as he played tackle for several seasons with Carolina.

Guards (3)

Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell

CHANGES: Moved Bell from OT

 

Again, we're assuming that the current plan of Cooper taking over at left guard works out. I think Byron Bell will also stick as a backup at both guard and tackle. You also have Joe Looney as a versatile backup at guard and center.

It's the versatility of the backups that will allow Dallas to keep just eight offensive linemen and free up a spot somewhere else. They could easily go with nine, though, depending on health issues and if there are still lingering concerns at left guard or right tackle. Some position battles aren't always resolved by Week One.

Centers (2)

Travis Frederick, Joe Looney

CHANGES: None

No surprises here. The only potential change is if prospects Ross Burbank or Ruben Carter can somehow force Looney out, but Dallas won't lose the veteran lightly. He can play center or guard and now has a full year in the system.

In fact, don't sleep on Looney as the potential starting left guard.  If Jonathan Cooper gets hurt or just can't get it done, Looney may be the next-best option. If that happens, we will have to address backup center with one of the young guys or a free agent signing.

Benson Mayowa

DE Benson Mayowa

Defensive Ends (5)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore

CHANGES: Added Moore

Good reports on Moore during the summer have prompted me to add him for the first four weeks during David Irving's suspension. He may get cut at that point, but injuries and other issues between then and now and then could change things. Dallas isn't going to part ways with anybody who proves they can get to the quarterback.

It will be interesting to see how Lawrence's impending free agency affects him and the team's use of him. Will they take snaps away from Taco and Tapper if DeMarcus isn't in the long-term plans? Will Lawrence be able to force his way into a new contract if he has a breakout year? He's one of the most intriguing players to watch all season.

Maliek Collins, Redskins

DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Defensive Tackle (4)

Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea

CHANGES: Removed David Irving (suspended)

This core group is set.  When Irving comes back in Week 5, the roster spot will probably come from Damontre Moore at defensive end or maybe some other position. We should see a healthy rotation of all these players throughout the season, though Collins will likely get the most snaps as he did in 2016.

I know many fans are excited about seventh-round rookie Joey Ivie but I have a hard time saving him a spot given everything else going on with the team. An injury is probably the only way he'll avoid the practice squad.

Sean Lee

LB Sean Lee

Linebackers (7)

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, John Lotulelei

CHANGES: Removed Damien Wilson (suspended) and Jeremiah George, Added Durant and Lotulelei

I'm assuming that Wilson is eventually suspended for at least some portion of 2017.  It's possible that the NFL won't move until more plays out in the legal system, which could actually go into the season. However, they don't have to wait to act on the Personal Conduct Policy if they so choose. The re-signing of Justin Durant last week speaks to Dallas' concern about Wilson's availability.

I think they'll keep a seventh linebacker because of the question marks; Jaylon's knee, Durant's age, and Nzeocha's recurrent health issues. John Lotulelei was praised during mini-camp and OTAs and seems to be front-runner among the unknown prospects.

Anthony Brown

CB Anthony Brown

Cornerbacks (6)

Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Leon McFadden, Marquez White

CHANGES: Removed Nolan Carroll (suspended), Added McFadden and White.

Carroll's assumed two-game suspension makes it much easier for sixth-round rookie Marquez White to make the team. He will have to fight off some more experienced options in Leon McFadden and Sammy Seamster, though. Carroll's absence could cause Dallas to be more enticed by veteran options, instead of another rookie.

I actually think both will happen. Dallas will hang on to McFadden, who was with them last year, for the experience while also protecting White with a roster spot. When Carroll comes off suspension one of the two will be released to make room.

Dallas may only be able to keep one of them if they have to go longer at safety, though, which we'll get into right now.

Jeff Heath

S Jeff Heath

Safeties (4)

Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods

CHANGES: Cut Robert Blanton

I'm assuming that either or Frazier or Woods will show enough that Dallas doesn't feel the need to keep veteran insurance policy Robert Blanton. If not, Dallas may be forced to keep five safeties if they don't want to risk their young guys on the practice squad. Then again, Frazier might just get cut if he can't take on a bigger role in his second year.

There is Jameill Showers, the former quarterback who converted to safety while on last year's practice squad. It's hard to see him beating out Frazier or Woods, but Showers' special teams prowess and usefulness as a mobile scout team QB aren't without value. If a full offseason at safety leads to major growth, perhaps Showers will surprise people.

Chris Jones

P Chris Jones (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Specialists (3)

Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)

CHANGES: None

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.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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3 Comments
  • John Williams

    There isn’t a whole lot to argue with here. The Left Guard competition is easily the most important piece to the offensive puzzle. Whether it’s Cooper or Green or Looney, will have a domino effect on the rest of the roster.

    If Green wins the job, it’s likely they have to keep 9 because Cooper doesn’t offer the same versatility as the rest of the backups. But Green at LG would mean Cleary is the swing tackle and Bell is kept as backup across the line. Cooper could be on the 53, but not active for game days and then inserted if Green gets hurt.

    I also don’t see them keeping more than 2 quarterbacks.

    RB we are in agreement on. I don’t see Morris having enough value to keep him on the roster. He isn’t going to get many snaps, and would likely be inactive on gameday.

    With you on WR. I am beginning to think they keep six. They’ll use Brown in the Vince Mayle role some so that they can be in 11 with a really good blocking wide receiver. Imagine Brown and Dez and Terrance in the lineup together. That is a pretty awesome 11 personnel. They all are above average to good blockers and Elliott will run forever.

    I get the feeling the team is really excited about Moore at DE. I can see that as a place they go long on the 53 man roster for much of the season.

    You’re right on at DB. There is too much depth at CB and DL and too many questions at LB to keep more than four safeties.

    • Jess Haynie

      Totally agree about the LG linchpin. Starting position has to get figured out and then a lot trickles down from there.

  • John Williams

    Oh, and I’m #ReadyForRico. I think he does enough to make the roster out of camp.

Dallas Cowboys

REPORT: Cowboys DL David Irving’s Accuser Retracts Claims Of Domestic Violence

Kevin Brady

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David Irving

After what was a rather crazy day which resulted in reports the Frisco Police Department were investigating Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving for domestic violence, the accuser has now retracted her claims.

https://twitter.com/DCBlueStar/status/988527577915674624

This retraction comes after the mentioned reports of domestic violence claims against David Irving earlier in the day. Irving was neither arrested nor charged for the incidents, though two separate allegations were made.

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms allegations made against Cowboys player David Irving were reported on April 22nd. At two separate times: 5pm & 10pm. Allegations made by girlfriend @wfaa

Irving has claimed through his own social media account that his accuser is an ex-girlfriend looking for retaliation over a breakup. Irving has already said he has changed the locks on his house in attempt to change behavior moving forward.

Whether or not Irving abused his reported ex-girlfriend is not for me to say, but it will be interesting to see how Roger Goodell handles the matter after she retracted her claims later in the day. As we know very well, the NFL can claim violation of the personal conduct policy even if the justice system pursues no charges.

And the results of both the Frisco PD's investigation and that of the league office will be intriguing over the coming weeks and months.


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Player News

REPORT: Cowboys DE/DT David Irving Suspected of Domestic Violence

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

[4/24/18 UPDATE: Irving's accuser has since recanted with police. However, the NFL could still investigate under their domestic violence policy.]

ORIGINAL STORY

Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving is under investigation by Frisco, TX police for charges of domestic violence, according to a report by Jobin Panicker of WFAA-ABC in Dallas.

The following was tweeted from Panicker's account not long ago:

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms it is investigating serious allegations against Cowboys player David Irving. No arrests. Assault-Bodily Injury, Unlawful Restraint, & Assault-Impeding Breath and Circulation @wfaa

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms allegations made against Cowboys player David Irving were reported on April 22nd. At two separate times: 5pm & 10pm. Allegations made by girlfriend @wfaa

The veracity of the accusations are certainly not ours to judge, but other recent events on Irving's social suggest he is in the middle of a breakup with his girlfriend. Posts early this morning on his Twitter account appeared to be from an unauthorized user, and David later posted on both Twitter and Instagram that someone had hacked him.

Furthermore, Irving shared that he was already taking steps due to the volatile situation.

David Ja Rodd Irving on Twitter

@DCBlueStar Changed the locks yesterday

While personal lives should stay that way, Cowboys fans are understandably concerned after what happened last year with Ezekiel Elliott. As we saw then, Roger Goodell's "justice" system allows for just an accusation to lead to a suspension. There is no burden of proof on the accuser.

And as in that case, even if the police dismiss the allegation, the NFL can still pursue the matter under the personal conduct and domestic violence policies.

It would be nice to just say "let the process play out," but the NFL commissioner doesn't hold himself to that standard. Therefore, we have to report this as it could mean consequences for David Irving and the Dallas Cowboys no matter how legitimate the claims are.


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Player News

Jaylon Smith Practicing Without AFO Brace

John Williams

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Jaylon Smith Voted Cowboys' Ed Block Courage Award Winner 1

A lot of the talk circling the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL Draft is the need for the Cowboys to draft a linebacker as insurance to Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith's injury issues.

One of the questions, Sean Lee, will always be a question. When he's on the field, he's as good a linebacker as there is in the NFL. In 2016, he finally got in a near full season and rewarded the Dallas Cowboys with an All-Pro season that led the team to the playoffs. Talent has never been the issue with Lee. Keeping him on the field has been.

Jaylon Smith's question isn't his health as much as it is his recovery. The surgery to repair his ACL and MCL that he suffered at the end of his final season at Notre Dame was considered a success. There was a caveat, however, that there was no telling how much functionality would return because of the massive nerve injury that occurred.

Last year, Jaylon Smith actually played football games. No small step. In some games he made some plays and in other games, it was clear that he was still struggling with changing directions and running with receivers and running backs in coverage.

Time is Jaylon's biggest ally and another offseason removed from his injury should only help him get stronger and more confident in his recovering knee.

Lost in all of the Dez Bryant hoopla was a beautiful little nugget that Jaylon Smith teased Cowboys Nation with last week.

Jaylon provided a great look at his training regimen on the first day of team workouts and if you look closely, you'll see with a Clear Eye View that Jaylon Smith isn't wearing a brace, tape, or any other kind of support. On his knee or foot.

Jaylon Smith on Twitter

Focused vision, Determined belief, Earned dreams. #ClearEyeView

Remember that even after Jaylon was playing and practicing without a knee brace, he was still requiring an AFO brace to help with his foot drop.

Oh, how much one offseason can change things.

Mike Fisher, now of 247Sports.com, quoted Smith as saying, "I have more power and more flexibility now. And the dropfoot (issue) is fading. Absolutely!'' over on Scout.com, and there was this:

"As our colleague Bryan Broaddus has previously noted, it does seem that some of the testing is behind him, that the nerve is regenerating, that the repaired knee is stronger than ever and that more improvement is ahead of him. Smith's 6-2, 245-pound body is about as sculpted as is imaginable. His mind is sculpted, too, the result of his faith and his intellect and his personality and more. He suggests now that more improvement is inevitable, and that includes the medical improvement that is now, to him, simply "a matter of timing.'''

Mike Fisher - 105.3 The Fan and 247Sports.com

There is still a lot of hope around The Star and Cowboys Nation that Jaylon Smith can return to the All-American form that was projecting him as a top-five talent in the 2016 NFL Draft. If he's healthy and moving with better lateral movement and agility than he was in 2017, that's a huge step forward for Jaylon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys.

The progression of his knee and his confidence in said knee is going to be a huge determining factor in Dallas' plans to draft a linebacker. If they feel confident that he will be a more functional linebacker in 2018 than he was in 2017, then perhaps they could wait until day two or three to address the linebacker position.

We can't fully know their intentions as we get closer to draft day. How they address the linebacker position in the 2018 NFL Draft could give us an excellent indication of how they feel about Jaylon Smith's progression.

What we do know is that Jaylon Smith will never give up working toward being an elite middle linebacker. Let's hope he can realize his dreams. Everyone will be better for it.


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