With the 2018 NFL Draft and the signings of undrafted free agents now behind us, it's a good opportunity to look at the Dallas Cowboys roster and what they have in stock for the upcoming season.
There are still a lot of changes that could come between now and the start of training camp, let alone Week One of the regular season. But the vast majority of the 53-man roster is already here and preparing to participate in mini-camps and other activities in the coming weeks.
What might the 2018 roster look like when the Cowboys head Charlotte, NC on September 9th for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White (R)
With no questions about Dak's role in 2018, the intrigue here is in the two backups. Rush and White will certainly be competing for the number-two spot on the depth chart. Could the loser find himself off the roster completely?
The Cowboys have typically tried to keep just one backup QB on the roster, freeing up a spot for another position. While they did carry three to start 2017, they eventually cut Kellen Moore once there was a need and they were confident enough in Rush to handle the job.
Cooper's back this year looking to build on his unexpected rise from undrafted rookie to preseason darling. But now he's got to fight off Mike White, a fifth-round pick who many felt was a tremendous value with major potential.
Whether both guys make the roster or not could depend on who wins the backup job. If it's Rush, Dallas probably still keeps White on the 53 to preserve his four-year rookie deal. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys might decide they can afford to risk him on the practice squad.
Running Back (5)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin, Bo Scarbrough (R)
Jamize Olawale (Fullback)
We all know who the bell cow will be for the Cowboys offense next year. Hopefully with all personal issues in the rear view, Zeke returns to retake the throne as the league's best RB. One might wonder how many carries will be left for the other backs.
Rod Smith emerged last year as a very capable reserve, mixing power and athleticism and even flashing receiving skills at times. He could be especially dangerous behind Elliott, able to exploit a battered a defense with fresh legs and versatility.
But if you want to batter a defense, Alabama's Bo Scarbrough is a wrecking ball. At almost 240 pounds, he could be a menace with the lanes that the Cowboys' offensive line can create. Some of his tape reminds you of Marshawn Lynch.
The real change of pace will come when Dallas works veteran Tavon Austin into the offense. Converting to RB, the sixth-year speedster was picked up in a trade for a sixth-round pick. If nothing else, he should serve as the primary return man. But the Cowboys will be looking for various ways to get Austin the ball, wanting to add a speed element to the offense that has been missing for a few years now.
At fullback, Jamize Olawale returns to Dallas after six years with the Raiders. Undrafted in 2012, Olawale was on the Cowboys' practice squad but got poached by Oakland. He brings more of a receiving threat to the FB position than Dallas had in Keith Smith, plus has the size to play a little tight end. We'll get to that shortly.
Wide Receiver (6)
With Dez Bryant released and Ryan Switzer traded, the receiver corps for 2018 is already looking very different from what we'd have guessed a few months ago. For those who have returned from last year, how much could their role change?
Allen Hurns, who was clearly signed to be Bryant's replacement rather than running mate, will hopefully return to the 1,000-yard form he once showed in Jacksonville. But he won't have an Allen Robinson playing on the other side of the field, so it may be asking too much for Hurns to now be the top target.
In 2016, Cole Beasley was Dak Prescott's favorite target and the team's leading receiver. But team's figured that out and schemed against Beasley last season, which was a key cause for Prescott's regression. Unless someone like Hurns or Terrance Williams starts to take advantage, it could be another down year for Cole.
Hopefully, third-round pick Michael Gallup will help in the fight. The Cowboys should give the rookie plenty of opportunities to make an early impact. This is a time of change in Dallas and there will be less emphasis on tenure. If Gallup can develop early chemistry with Dak, he could have a large role quickly.
Veteran free agent Deonte Thompson is a wild card here. Like Brice Butler in recent seasons, Thompson has intriguing speed but will have to show he can consistently produce. Thompson has only recently emerged as a solid NFL player when in Buffalo, but is now 29 years old. He was signed to a minimal contract, and may not even make the roster if younger guys show up.
Noah Brown is one of those young prospects who could push into the mix. He looked like a young Dez Bryant at times during the last preseason, bringing physicality once the ball is in his hands. Brown will need to find a role on special teams to secure a roster spot.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz (R)
No, I didn't forget about Rico Gathers. But I have a feeling that the hype around this kid is misplaced, and many Dallas fans will be disappointed when they find out he's no longer in the team's long-term plans.
The Cowboys have a run-focused offense, which puts a premium on blocking ability. Gathers didn't learn how to take on pass rushers when he was grabbing rebounds at Baylor, and that's not his fault. But it makes his ability to make any NFL team, and especially one with a more old school approach, a longshot at best.
Because of the ability of guys like FB Jamize Olawale and perhaps WR Noah Brown to play as smallish tight ends, it allows Dallas to keep just three. Swaim is the experienced player who should get the first crack at the starting role, and the unenviable task of trying to fill Jason Witten's shoes.
The Cowboys liked Blake Jarwin enough last year that they signed him off the practice squad to avoid him being stolen by the Philadelphia Eagles. He will compete with Dalton Schultz, a fourth-round rookie, for the backup role.
There are several known entities like Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, and Coby Fleener still out there in free agency. Dallas may wind up bringing in one of them before the offseason's over. But for now, we'll work with what we've got.
Offensive Line (8)
Dallas loaded up on versatile players this offseason, giving them options as they decide on a new starting left guard and backups for 2018.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will likely get the first look as the fifth starter. A college tackle, Williams should move inside to try his hand at guard. But Dallas could also consider moving La'el Collins back to that spot if they feel Connor is the better right tackle.
If the rookie isn't ready for full-time work, the Cowboys could also go with one of the veteran interior linemen in Looney or Martin. They have both played guard and center during their careers and this will be Looney's third season in the Cowboys' system.
It's also possible that Cam Fleming, probably the most talented of the backups, would be the best option to join the starting lineup. That would also mean moving Collins back to guard, which both he and the team have said isn't their first choice. But ultimately, Dallas will do what it has to get their five best offensive linemen on the field.
The good news is that the team isn't trapped. They left themselves several ways of filling the need and bolstering their depth from last season.
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That's 25 of your 53 players accounted for. CLICK HERE for the defense and special teams.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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