The Cowboys finally played their first preseason game last night. With what we saw from that game, plus two weeks of training camp reports, it's a good time to update the 53-man roster projection for 2018.
The last projection came out just before camp started and we've had some developments since then. Thankfully, none of those have involved a major injury. All of our changes will be based on performance.
The danger here is getting too hung up on stuff that happened in last night's game. Those limited reps against limited competition don't wipe out everything the coaches have observed in training camp.
They do matter, of course. A strong performance can do a lot to help a guy's stock. But it would be foolish to assume that a quiet night negates everything a player might've done so far in Oxnard.
So, with that being said, let's get to it.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
The pecking order is only more firmly established after last night. Dak had a perfect showing in his one series, leading a touchdown drive and having zero incompletions. Cooper Rush was next up and looked solid, completing 65% of his passes and having few errors despite some protection issues.
Mike White didn't get a chance to show much, playing with the bottom rung of receivers and getting even worse blocking than Rush had. It will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at being QB2 in any of the remaining games.
More than likely, though, this trio will remain as is the rest of the season. The only real potential for change was if Rush struggled and allowed the rookie to move up the depth chart, which could put Cooper's roster spot in jeopardy.
But last night, plus everything we've heard from Oxnard, indicates that Cooper Rush is entrenched as the backup QB for 2018.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bo Scarbrough,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Moved Tavon Austin to WR
Zeke sat out last night, allowing Rod Smith to run with the starters. He showed the same mix of power and athleticism we saw last year, even thought the stat sheet was nothing eye-catching.
Bo Scarbrough got to punch one into the endzone, capping a solid debut. We already knew he wouldn't get to flash much behind backup linemen, needing holes and lanes to show off as a downhill runner. He did get off one 28-yard run when he could find some daylight, plus had two catches for 19 yards.
Don't worry, Tavon Austin fans. He's still on the roster, but now being listed at receiver. He may still be a RB on the team's website roster, but the Cowboys' first official depth chart showed him at WR and all his snaps last night came from that position.
Darius Jackson got some run last night and flashed a few things, but not enough to knock anybody else off the roster.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Changes: Added Austin and Lenoir, Removed Terrance Williams and Noah Brown
It may be early and even foolish, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that Terrance Williams won't make the team this year. I alluded to this two weeks ago and last night only gave me more reason to stick to the theory.
Michael Gallup will need to keep making plays with the first-team offense to make this happen, but last night was a good sign. Lance Lenoir's good night and strong camp also puts pressure from the other end of the depth chart.
I could be way off. Maybe it's veteran Deonte Thompson who loses his spot over Williams.
But Terrance Williams doesn't give you special teams value, and now his role as a receiver is being threatened. The Cowboys can eat his contract if they want to, and they're getting more reasons.
Noah Brown was a tough cut, but he hasn't made the kind of noise in camp that we'd hoped for. Still plenty of time for him to get back on the radar, though.
Tight End (4)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz,
Changes: Added Jarwin
We saw Blake Jarwin playing with the starters last night, and word is that he might even push Geoff Swaim for the starting job. If nothing else, it seems impossible to leave him off the 53 at this point.
Rico Gathers is still in this fight, perhaps forcing the team to dump someone at another position. But like Noah Brown, he's another guy who hasn't built on last year's hype yet.
I'm giving him the roster spot for now, hoping we get to see more as preseason continues. He still has that great upside as a receiver, and his blocking has reportedly improved. But at this point Rico's still on the bubble.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Changes: Removed Chaz Green
I tried to be a nice guy with my last projection, but Green looked bad last night. Some guys just can't handle the bright lights and Chaz may simply be a dude who folds under game-time pressure, no matter what he shows in practice.
Green was more of a versatile G/T option anyway, which was nice for the bottom of the depth chart for not if he still struggles this much. He could still be put on the practice squad, having just one accrued season so far in his career.
Dallas will likely just go with their starters and Cam Fleming as the swing tackle.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
Changes: Added Joe Looney
With Chaz gone, that opens up a spot for Joe Looney to be retained. The Cowboys could go with some younger prospect, but until one emerges then Looney is reliable depth at both guard and center.
The guy who might push Looney or Marcus Martin out is Kadeem Edwards, who was playing with the second team last night and is a former fifth-round pick. Injuries derailed his early career in Tampa Bay, but Edwards has a chance to get back on track in Dallas.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton
Charles Tapper, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong
Changes: Added Crawford and Tapper, Removed Kony Ealy
With Crawford being listed as a starting DE on the official depth chart, and having played there last night, I think it's time to make the switch. Tyrone even looked leaner as if he's been working on his body to do more work on the edge.
After reports that veteran free agent Kony Ealy hasn't shown much in camp, and no signs of life last night, I'm cutting him loose. Dallas has too many younger options with upside.
Keeping Tapper and Gregory may be a bit much, but it really is indicative of the versatility and style of the defensive line. Guys like Crawford, Tapper, and even Lawrence or Taco could play inside on some passing downs. What you need are as many athletes who can get to the quarterback as possible.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Jihad Ward, Datone Jones, Brian Price,
Changes: Moved Tyrone Crawford to DE, Added Woods
Removed Richard Ash
Antwaun Woods is the big mover, going from obscurity to being one of the most hyped defensive linemen in camp right now. He didn't have big game last night, but he's been pushing for a starting job based on his play in Oxnard.
I don't have Maliek Collins listed because he's on PUP now, and I expect will remain there to start the season. David Irving is missing due to his four-game suspension to start 2018.
Hopefully we will get to see more of Jihad Ward in the next few preseason games. He should be starting at least in September, and perhaps beyond depending on how he performs.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
Last night only confirmed what we already assumed about this group. Jaylon flashed in his limited playing time, Vander Esch had a strong night, and the veteran backups stood out.
Joe Thomas got an interception off a tipped ball. Justin March-Lillard showed his versatility with a big QB hit off a blitz, plus a pass deflection. It was a great night to further establish the quality depth that these two veterans offer.
Damien Wilson started the game, but Sean Lee was out. It will be interesting to see who starts between Wilson and Vander Esch when the captain is active.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones,
Anthony Brown, Charvarious Ward
Changes: Added Ward, Removed Kameron Kelly and Duke Thomas
Our top four is locked in, so it all comes down to the bottom of the depth chart. Based on training camp over last night's game, Charvarious Ward has been the standout player and is my current pick for the roster.
I dumped two corners to add a fourth safety, which I didn't have in the last projection. Duke Thomas did have a pick last night but it was more a bad throw and tipped ball that landed in his lap.
But really, between Thomas, Ward, Kam Kelly, and Marquez White, I could be flip-flopping a lot on these last one or two corners between now and final cuts. In the end, the decision will probably come down to things I didn't get to see in training camp and practice.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Changes: Added Huff
With a pass breakup and a nice special teams play in punt coverage last night, Huff drew eyes last night. I was already intrigued by the former fourth-round pick, and he didn't disappoint.
Of course, Marqueston's spot could be going to Earl Thomas if that deal ever gets done. But for now, Huff is a potential backup with 41 career games under his belt.
I still think Dallas could easily go with just three safeties and keep a sixth corner, and special teams will play heavily into that decision. If Huff keeps making plays like he did last night he will make a great case to stick on the roster.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
As always, we end things with this boringly consistent trio. For the positions they play, though, there is no greater compliment.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys' year in 2018 was marked by big moves at wide receiver. Dez Bryant was released in April and then a first-round pick was traded in October to add Amari Cooper. Could this 2019 offseason offer anything close to that level of activity?
Unlike last season, Dallas should enjoy some stability in its starting lineup at receiver. Cooper returns at a much higher price, with the $13.9 million cap hit from his fifth-year option coming into player. Amari cost just $412k against the Cowboys' salary cap last year.
That huge jump in cap cost may hurt but Cooper backed it up with his Pro Bowl play in 2018. The top WR contracts average $15-$17 million per year, so even now Dallas is arguably getting Amari at a bargain.
The Cowboys didn't give up a first-round pick for a year-and-a-half rental, so we can expect them to seek a long-term extension with Cooper in the near future. With the contracts of DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott more immediate concerns, any new deal for Amari probably won't come until the middle of the season or in 2020.
Not only is WR1 set for next year but Michael Gallup appears locked in as the other starter. Of his 68 targets last year, 40 came in the second half of the year. It was a great season for a third-round rookie, and there are high hopes for Gallup's development in his first full offseason.
The stability up front is a blessing for the Cowboys, but it doesn't relieve them of big decisions at the WR position this offseason. They face a particularly critical choice when it comes to the free agency of Cole Beasley.
It's hard to believe Beasley's already been in Dallas for seven seasons. An undrafted gem, Cole has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players for some time. He led them in receiving in 2016 and has been one of the most efficient, QB-friendly options for the last several years.
Beasley's contract expiring this year is only one issue. He has become very vocal lately about wanting to be a bigger part of the offense. His targets dropped tremendously over the course of 2018, which was especially evident when Cole got just five total passes thrown his way in the two playoffs games.
If Beasley wants a larger role, does that also mean he wants more money? He was making a little over $3 million/season on his last deal.
With Gallup on a cheap rookie contract, Dallas could afford to pay raise Beasley's compensation a bit. But if they don't plan to use him more than they did last year, then perhaps the two parties just aren't a good fit at this point.
If Cole walks in free agency then the Cowboys will now have to find a new number-three receiver. The next best option would be Tavon Austin, but he is also a free agent. However, he could likely be re-signed for a fraction of what Beasley would want.
Austin has the physical skills to be an offensive weapon but he doesn't have the reliable hands that Beasley does. Even if Dallas wants Tavon back solely for his skills on punt returns, they may not be ready to make him a bigger part of the offense.
One option might be promoting Noah Brown, whose at times has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant with his physical playing style. His blocking ability would lend itself to the single-back formations Dallas likes to run out of, and he's flashed some good hands in limited opportunities.
In that scenario Amari Cooper would likely play out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of with his quickness. The same would be done if Dallas went with another internal solution, such as Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams.
That said, the Cowboys are unlikely to pick up the second-year option on Hurns' contract, not wanting to pay him over $6 million in 2019 after last year's low production. It also doesn't seem likely that they want to keep Williams after last year's issues.
Taking all of that into consideration, Dallas may very well be doing some WR shopping in free agency. Fortunately for them, it's a favorable market if you're looking for a slot receiver.
On top of Beasley and Austin already in the free agent pool, Golden Tate could at least match Cole's play if not potentially offer an upgrade. Baltimore's John Brown, Tampa's Adam Humphries, and Washington's Jamison Crowder are all other proven options. Emmanuel Sanders, while not currently a free agent, is a very possible cap casualty for the Broncos.
Guys like Humphries and Crowder are younger than Beasley and could provide better long-term value on their contract. That may be a more attractive option at this point for the Cowboys.
Dallas won't need to add a lot of bodies at WR thanks to a few young prospects. They still have Lance Lenoir and Cedrick Wilson under contract, plus signed 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith as a potential rehabilitation project.
But again, these guys are all just bodies right now. Lenoir has had his opportunities and not done much with them, though he does offer some value as a potential return man. Wilson spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
The Cowboys could still look at a receiver with one of their mid-round draft picks, but it's hard to get much production early there. Last year's play from Michael Gallup was a surprise for a third-rounder.
It's far more likely that Dallas will either work things out with Cole Beasley or pursue a veteran replacement in free agency.
So no, thankfully, we don't have to worry about any monumental changes at the top of the WR depth chart in 2019. But Beasley was more than just a third receiver, and keeping or replacing him will have a significant impact on the offense going forward.
If Dallas is truly ready to commit to Dak Prescott as the quarterback of the future then they can't take anything about his receiving options lightly. Therefore, wide receiver remains an important offseason focus for the Cowboys in 2019.
Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus
Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.
Here’s what he had to say:
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...
...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Brian Martin - Inside The Star
I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.
I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.
They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.
Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.
Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.
While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.
I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.
Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.
Should Cowboys Address TE Need Via Free Agency?
A season after Jason Witten's retirement, the Dallas Cowboys still have a need at tight end. Replacing a future Hall of Famer is no easy feat so it's only logical that it would take longer than a season to feel good about who's in at tight end.
The Cowboys currently have two tight ends who could be pretty serviceable going forward. Fourth round pick Dalton Schultz did a very solid job as the team's TE2, specially toward the second half of the season. He turned into a pretty good run blocker and despite only racking up 116 yards in 12 catches, he's a guy the Cowboys' offense could use even more in the future.
Also on the team is Blake Jarwin, who functioned as the Cowboys' main tight end for most of 2018. His performance against the New York Giants in week 17 made us wonder whether or not he could be an important target on the Cowboys' offense.
These two could very well have more in them than what we've seen. With a new offensive coordinator in town, tight end is a position the Cowboys could start using way more. As Bobby Belt pointed out on Twitter a few weeks ago, Scott Linehan's offense doesn't benefit tight ends very much. Before we give a verdict on what Schultz and Jarwin can do, I'd like to see them work with Kellen Moore's offense.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Here's the thing. If the Cowboys are not taking a tight end in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are they really upgrading what they already have? I'm not sure we'll be convinced about that if they draft a player for the position until the third or fourth round. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for the Cowboys drafting a TE in the second round, because I believe there are more pressing needs on the team. However, signing a veteran free agent might be the better option for upgrading the position.
Should a veteran TE be an option?
This year, there are quite a few interesting names in the tight end market. Veterans such as Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and even Antonio Gates will be looking for a new team pretty soon. I know, that would be "getting older." But it could also mean getting better. Building a solid TE committee with a veteran leading Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could be the way to go for this football team.
Eifert is a great tight end... when he's on the field. Durability is his biggest weakness, as he hasn't played more than 10 games since 2016. The Cowboys could take a risk on him and constantly rotate him with Jarwin and Schultz. It may be a huge risk, but it could pay off big time. If the price is right, Eifert should be targeted by the front office.
The 2018 Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, winning only four games. Even still, Jared Cook's season was impressive. He finished the year with 896 yards and multiple 100-yard games. The biggest issue with Cook is his age. He turns 32 in April. But hey, he's literally coming off from a career year.
Jesse James is a younger guy who could also be worth it. He's not an a potent receiver, but he gets it done in the passing game and is one hell of a blocker. James could be a legit, cheaper option for the Cowboys in free agency.
There are a lot of names out there the front office could look at. Charles Clay was just released by the Buffalo Bills and Nick Boyle will be looking for new job after new arrivals pushed him out of the Baltimore Ravens' roster just to mention a few names.
We'll see what the front office's plans are soon enough, but right now, I'd say tight end is a need the Dallas Cowboys should at least try to address in free agency instead of the NFL Draft.
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