Roster cuts will be coming over the next two days, and it's time to look at our final 53-man roster projection of 2018. Who will make up the Dallas Cowboys as the enter the upcoming regular season?
The preseason revealed some things that we didn't expect a month ago, both positive and negative. We've seen some big swings in stock value on certain players since the start of training camp.
The best thing you can say about the Cowboys' August is that they evaded any major injuries. Travis Frederick's health issue is a concern, but otherwise the team shouldn't be missing anybody for more than a week or town.
One thing to keep in mind with these projections is that we can't account for all of the talent that's about to hit the open market. Only Will McClay and his crew know who the Cowboys may be targeting from waivers and free agency in the days ahead.
That said, we'll do our best to form a roster with what we know and who's currently in house.
Dak Prescott, Mike White
Changes: Removed Cooper Rush
I have wrestled with this one a lot, and I think this comes down to that 53-man limit and needs elsewhere on the team. It also may be a temporary move.
White has outplayed Rush the last two weeks. While he's a rookie, he was also a fifth-round pick. Rush was an undrafted free agent last year.
Dallas will want to preserve White's four-year rookie contract, which would be lost if he was released and re-signed to the practice squad. Unfortunately, Rush's time last year on the active roster makes him ineligible for the practice squad.
The Cowboys may very well wind up with three quarterbacks, perhaps signing or trading for a veteran backup over the next few days. But with other positions where they need to go long due to injury, I think they will make this move to avoid having to make a tougher cut somewhere else.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
I am standing by my belief that Jackson gives you more than Bo Scarbrough with his athleticism and kick return value. He just makes more sense as your third RB as Rod Smith has plenty of power as a short-yardage option.
There are only so many teams that are going to value a runner like Scarbrough. He needs an offensive line who can dominate and make lanes for him to pick up speed in. Dallas is one of those few teams, so they have a good shot at getting him to their practice squad.
I'm prepared to be wrong on this one. The Cowboys have cut Jackson once before and could do it again. But keep in mind that this was when they had Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darren McFadden all under contract. Darius was on the roster in 2016 until McFadden was finally activated.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson
Changes: Added Thompson
Here's one position where I think Dallas goes long, both for current and future reasons. Even still, they have to make a tough cut by not putting Lance Lenoir on the roster this year.
With Beasley, Austin, and Thompson all playing on expiring contracts, and Terrance Williams a likely cap casualty next year, the Cowboys will spend much of 2018 deciding who they value for the future. We're going to see all of these guys used in various ways.
Even though Thompson didn't get to do much this month, missing time with injury, Dallas signed the veteran for a reason. I think they'll want to see what he can offer in games before they cut him loose.
As for Lenoir, I'm sure the Cowboys will hope to get him to the practice squad. He'd make the team most years, but we're unusually deep at WR in 2018.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
I wouldn't draft a Dallas TE on your fantasy team this year, because Jarwin and Swaim are probably going to be splitting a lot of time. Jarwin's the better receiver, Swaim's the better blocker, and they will be deployed in many different packages.
Schultz was a fourth-round pick and isn't going anywhere. That means Rico Gathers had to push the team to keep four tight ends, and it just hasn't happened. He's still too raw with the finer points of football to justify a roster spot.
In a different year, Dallas could go long if they wanted to give Rico another year to develop and not risk him on the practice squad. But with the health issues on the offensive line and at safety, this just isn't one of those years.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
This trio had been locked in since the beginning of camp. The starters are set and Fleming was clearly brought in to play swing tackle, making $2.5 million this year in reserve duty.
There is some concern as Fleming hasn't looked great this preseason, but part of that has been the overall failings of the backup linemen. Teams have been throwing a lot of blitzes at Dallas' second string.
Fleming has started a lot of games, including playoffs, for the New England Patriots. He will look better when he's playing with the starters and when defenses aren't as aggressive.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Parker Ehinger, Free Agent TBD
Changes: Added Ehinger, Removed Kadeem Edwards
In case you're wondering who Ehinger is, he's the OL from Kansas City who is reportedly coming to Dallas in exchange for CB Charvarius Ward. This deal should be finalized today.
Ehinger has guard/tackle flex and should be a nice upgrade over Kadeem Edwards. But that still leaves Dallas needing another guy who can play center.
Frederick may only be on the 53 for a day. Dallas has to go through cuts first and then put Travis on injured reserve if they want the option of bringing him back after eight weeks.
At this point, I don't even think they'll go that far. It sounds like he's doing very well with his treatment and could return much sooner than Week 9. I think they'll carry Frederick on the 53 as a gameday inactive until he's ready to go.
That means Joe Looney is starting for a while. Even though Zack Martin can play center in a pinch, Dallas still needs another guy who can handle that spot on their bench until Frederick returns. I think he will come from free agency in the next few days.
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
Changes: Moved Tyrone Crawford to DT
With Gregory's return and how quickly he's reestablished himself, it looks like Crawford is going to play more at his natural position as the 3-technique defensive tackle. That's good news across the board.
Thanks to the young talent showing up, Dallas will cut Kony Ealy. The veteran has not been what they hoped and they have better options at both DE and DT.
Tapper makes it for now but could easily be the guy cut once David Irving comes off suspension in Week 5.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods,
Daniel Ross, Brian Price
Changes: Added Crawford
One of the big stories this camp and preseason has been the rise of Antwaun Woods, who has taken over the 1-tech and nose tackle role. It's a nice development for the Cowboys as it frees up Maliek Collins to get back to the things that made him a standout as a rookie.
Jihad Ward is the guy that Dallas traded away Ryan Switzer for, but he hasn't impressed. He might make it over Ross or Price, but that would only be if the Cowboys still believe there's some untapped potential left.
As mentioned already, David Irving will be back in October. Injuries will likely play a major factor in who gets cut to make room for him.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
It's been a great summer for the LB position. Lee and Smith are healthy heading into the season, and Jaylon looks ready to be a breakout star.
Dallas now has the luxury of easing first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch into things. Damien Wilson may still start in the base defense for a while as the rookie, who missed time in preseason with a minor groin injury, hasn't had much work lately.
Helping also is the emergence of Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard as quality depth options. Both have stood out in preseason and are guy you won't be afraid to play in games if needed. It's arguably the deepest that the Cowboys have been at linebacker in some time.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Charvarius Ward
One reason that Dallas traded Ward to Kansas City, no doubt, is the play of Donovan Olumba. Another undrafted free agent this year, Olumba fits the Kris Richard mold at 6'2" and has been standing out lately among the CB prospects.
Even if Dallas was only keeping four safeties, not having to cover for Xavier Woods' injury, I don't think they'd go any longer here. Whether it's the 10th defensive back or that 9th offensive linemen, these are the spots that I think will cost Cooper Rush his roster spot.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Jeron Johnson, Tyree Robinson
Last night's game validated Johnson as a keeper. The veteran safety led the team in tackles and should provide exactly what they need, at least temporarily, while waiting to get Woods back. His experience, but generally and specifically with Kris Richard in Seattle, is a major plus.
I'm putting Robinson on here for now, but I could easily see him being replaced by a waiver wire or free agent acquisition. And if the Cowboys could perhaps finally pull of a trade with the Seahawks for that other guy, even better.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Since we don't have much to say about this obvious group of special teamers, how about a quick shout-out to Brett Maher? He's handled kicking and punting duties for Dallas over the last few months while helping Bailey and Jones to keep their legs fresh and avoid injuries.
Maher hit a 57-yard field goal last night in Houston, make him 4/4 this preseason. Hopefully somebody else took notice and will give the man a job.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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