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.
Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
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.
Running Backs (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
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.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.
Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."
This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.
As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.
"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.
So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.
But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.
Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.
Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.
The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.
Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.
When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?
What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.
Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.
Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.
The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.
He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.
A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.
Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.
It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.
Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.
Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.
The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.
If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?
If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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