The Cowboys finished their second week of the preseason with a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Between player performances and some injury news, we have some new things to consider in our roster projection for 2018.
Like last week against the 49ers, Dallas dominated the first half. The starters look ready to contend against any team in the NFL.
But depth is now looking like an issue. Some guys have been hurt and could miss the start of the regular season, and the players behind them are why the Cowboys have now lost two games they led at halftime.
How did these things impact the projected 53-man roster?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
After two unproductive preseason games, Mike White is starting to draw some criticism and questions a bout his job security. As I've mentioned many times, the Cowboys have often kept just two two quarterbacks on the roster to save a spot for another position.
But when you consider how bad the offensive line play has been when White's in the game, you have to consider what opportunity he really has to show anything. We all saw what Chaz Green was doing out there, to the point that he finally got benched.
Just remember how Dak Prescott looked in Atlanta last year when he was running for his life. You've seen it from some of the game's best QBs. If it can happen them, it can certainly happen to a fifth-round rookie playing in his second preseason game.
Dallas didn't spend that pick on White lightly. They're not going to cut him, and lose his four-year rookie contract, without being truly sure he has no value. I think it's too soon to know that, and especially given what's been going on around him.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Jackson, Removed Bo Scarbrough
Jackson was one of the highlights of the last game, showing his ability to make things happen even in limited space. It also showed why he may give the team more use than Bo Scarbrough would.
Scarbrough is a thumper, but is he really going to get playing time over Ezekiel Elliott AND Rod Smith? Is he going to take goal-line carries away from both of those guys, who also play with plenty of power?
Darius, on the other hand, has the speed to take one carry to the house. And with the Cowboys clearly trying to add more juice to the offense this year, Jackson fits that agenda.
Remember, Dallas spent a sixth-round pick on Jackson in 2016. That's a round higher than when they took Scarbrough this year. Jackson was on the roster until December of that year, when he was waived to make room for Darren McFadden.
The team liked Darius to bring him back this season. He provides a more explosive element and, I think, more overall value than Scarbrough. Unless there's some tremendous different in blocking ability or special teams play, I think he'll hang around.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Changes: Added Williams, Removed Deonte Thompson
I'm convinced that one of either Terrance Williams or Deonte Thompson won't make the roster, thanks largely to the rise of Lance Lenoir. At this point, I'm shifting to it being Thompson.
Terrance reminded us of his value on Saturday night. This is his third year playing with Dak Prescott, and that showed in the redzone scramble as Williams got open and gave Dak somewhere to put the ball. Plus, his contract remains a tough cut with $7.25 million in dead money.
Dallas brought Thompson in to be a speedy vertical threat, but they now have that in Tavon Austin and perhaps Lenoir. They also get special teams value out of Lenoir that the veteran Thompson doesn't offer.
The bottom of the depth chart generally comes down to special teams, but also long-term value. With Deonte being 29, he doesn't offer either. And with only a minimal veteran contract, he's much easier to cut than Terrance.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
Changes: Removed Rico Gathers
Rico Gathers is going to keep doing things that make you do a double-take. He has so much raw athleticism for a player of his size. But ultimately, he doesn't do enough of the little things.
When you see the way a guy like Blake Jarwin has come in a leapfrogged the depth chart, you get why Dallas may be ready to give up on Gathers. Jarwin was an undrafted free agent but he's developed himself into a guy the Cowboys are comfortable with as a starter. Rico in his third year and hasn't had much growth.
Sure, you'd like to have Rico out there as a redzone target. But he has to do enough things to actually be on the active 46, let alone the 53-man roster. At this point, there's just no indication that he's there.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Fleming has had ups and downs throughout camp and preseason, but he's still a massive upgrade as the swing tackle from Chaz Green last year.
This trio seems fairly locked in. Dallas will likely keep additional depth in the interior line given the recent injury scares with Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. With both Tyron and Collins in seemingly great health, they can roll with just the swing tackle for now.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Kadeem Edwards
Changes: Removed Marcus Martin
Dallas should have a much better idea of Martin's Week One availability by finals cuts. If he can't go, they will probably have to keep an extra guy here while Joe Looney gets the start.
Kadeem Edwards is the kind of guy who probably makes it past final cuts but could easily be gone once Dallas starts looking at new free agents from around the league. He's the best option for now, but that can change once all these other teams start releasing players.
Similarly, if Dallas decides to keep an extra lineman because of health concerns, it will probably come from other team's cuts. I can't fathom that Chaz Green makes the team again after what we've seen the last two weeks.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory,
Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
The only guy I'm not sure about here is Tapper, who may be one pass rusher too many. With Randy Gregory on the way back and Dorance Armstrong being one of the standouts of training camp, they may not have need for a sixth guy.
Tapper's roster spot could easily go back to the offense, perhaps for that extra offensive lineman we talked about. It could also be how they hang on to Rico Gathers.
Or, as we'll get into now, it could go to keeping another defensive tackle.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Daniel Ross,
Brian Price, Jihad Ward
Changes: Added Collins, Ross. Removed Datone Jones
With Maliek Collins back from PUP and Daniel Ross moving up the depth chart, a tough cut is coming. Right now, I'm dropping the axe on Datone Jones.
For one, we have yet to hear the extent of Jones' knee injury. Doesn't sound like it's serious, but it could cost him valuable practice reps and preseason game time. That may be all it takes.
Datone has value as he can play both inside and outside, but Dallas already has that in several other players. He's also 28 years old, so there isn't much upside there compared to the majority of their linemen.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
The confidence in this group just keep growing, doesn't it? Jaylon Smith looks like everything we'd dreamed, and the depth is also showing up in preseason.
Joe Thomas nearly had his second interception of the preseason and appears to be a real steal from our free agency additions. Damien Wilson is still running with the starters and that could be the case in Week One, too.
With none of the teams other prospects really showing much so far in preseason, this six feels locked in. Barring injury, I wouldn't expect any changes over the next two weeks.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Charvarious Ward
The only real question here is who is that fifth corner. I went with Ward last week and nobody really emerged in the last game to make me think differently. Still a lot that could happen in the next few weeks, though.
I do want to take a minute to discuss Jourdan Lewis. It's hard to say what's wrong with him right now, but he strikes me as a guy who's letting discouragement take him in the wrong direction.
Dallas may want to consider finding a trade partner. It was just a year ago that some saw Lewis as a first-round talent and he only dropped because of a pending legal issue. Might be a good time to get something for him while you still can.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
We don't know if Xavier Woods will play in Week One according to the most recent updates about his hamstring injury. That keeps the safety position, and a certain trade possibility with the Seahawks, in the spotlight.
Another option just became available as the Bengals released veteran George Iloka. He was a college teammate of Tyrone Crawford at Boise St. and has been playing in a similar scheme to what Dallas runs.
Woods' injury doesn't appear severe enough that it will put him on IR, even temporarily. Dallas might even be okay with starting Heath and Frazier for a week or two.
But if they were already looking at Earl Thomas, they just got a lot more motivated.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
We finally got to see Bailey kick a field goal. That was nice.
Chris Jones also showed us why he's one of the best with that coffin corner punt. Having this trio of special teamers is one of the great luxuries you can ask for as a football team.
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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