It's been a difficult week for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they get crushed in last night's preseason game, but the news of Travis Frederick's nerve disease cast a dark cloud over everything.
The health of the offensive live is now the dominant issue in trying to project the final 53-man roster. Several questions have to be answered:
- Will Travis Frederick be put on injured reserve?
- Will Zack Martin be ready to play?
- How many extra bodies will the Cowboys need to keep, if any?
- Is Chaz Green an Eagles sleeper agent, sent here to destroy us?
The ripple effects of roster decisions are what make these projections so interesting. A few banged up offensive linemen could cost a defensive back or someone at any other, seemingly unrelated, position a job.
So where are we now? What's changed after this week's events?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
After the last three games you may not be too high on either of the Cowboys' backup QBs. I still contend that neither has had much opportunity to shine with poor play from the backup offensive linemen, but I can understand any concerns.
That said, Cooper Rush has not looked like the same guy from the 2017 preseason. If some veteran passers hit the open market after final cuts, could Dallas consider cutting one of their youngsters for more security on the QB depth chart?
If nothing else, the Cowboys may now be more motivated to just keep two guys. Thursday night's game could be critical for one of Rush or White to hang on to their roster spot and avoid the practice squad.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Every week Darius Jackson flashes what a weapon he could be on a few plays, plus he's been getting looks as a kick returner. That gives him added value over Bo Scarbrough, who doesn't offer anything on special teams.
As I said last week, I think Elliott, Smith, and even Olawale give you all of the goal line and short yardage thumpers you need. Scarbrough should make it to the practice squad, and if not I don't see it as any big loss given what you already have.
So, unless something happens with injuries, I'm feeling pretty good about this RB group for Week One.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin
Changes: Removed Lance Lenoir
It'd be easy to call removing Lenoir a knee-jerk reaction after his rough preseason game. While it does factor in, this change is about more than just a few muffed punts.
Keeping six receivers is never guaranteed. You'd really need to feel good about all six guys, plus have clear roles for them. Even though he's had a strong showing before last night, Lenoir may not even be active on game days. He clearly won't be the return man, either.
As I said at the outset, Dallas may have to go long on the offensive line. So at this point, all things considered, I'm going to make Lenoir the fall guy for those issues.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
Rico Gathers probably makes the team if not for the issues at other positions, but the math just doesn't work for him anymore. Dallas will hope he gets to the practice squad, but I don't think they'll lose much sleep at this point if someone claims him.
As much as some might be disappointed about the failed experiment, you have to remember what we were talking about with Gathers. Think about all the guys who don't make it to the NFL despite great college careers.
Rico didn't play football in college. He didn't play it in high school. You were just hoping that you could make a football player out of this great athlete, essentially cheating the normal process of how people get into the NFL.
It didn't work because it's not supposed to. The odds were never in his favor.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
While he hasn't looked great at times this preseason, Fleming is still the clear swing tackle with no real competition for the job. It's unlikely anyone better will become available after final cuts, either.
What's encouraging here is that Tyron Smith and La'el Collins are healthier than last year, hopefully making the swing tackle a little of a concern. Given what's going on elsewhere with the offensive line, Dallas needs their tackles to be out there every snap if possible.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Kadeem Edwards, Free Agent TBD
Changes: Added “Free Agent TBD”
I'm still on the fence about Frederick going to IR. I can easily see it happening, but I can also see Dallas wanting to wait in case he can come back sooner. If it swings just one game to have him out there as opposed to Joe Looney, that could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
So right now, I'm projecting with the idea that Frederick stays on the 53 but inactive to start the year. In that case, Joe Looney will start. Dallas will get aggressive looking for a new backup guard/center, and they might sign two and cut Edwards.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory,
Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
While this may be one DE too many, all it takes is one injury to wish you still had somebody. None of these guys are just a body; all have some upside Dallas would hate to lose.
What we'll probably see is that one of these guys, most likely Charles Tapper, gets released once David Irving comes back from suspension. After four weeks, though, who knows how injuries may change the landscape.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Daniel Ross,
Changes: Removed Jihad Ward
Jihad Ward hasn't done much to justify a spot, but he's also new to Rod Marinelli's system. I think he'd get extra time if there weren't other issues, but injuries on the offensive line and at safety are going to cost him a spot.
As always, we're going to see a lot of rotation and plenty of guys getting snaps in different formations. Nobody from this DT group can really be called a clear starter, especially with Tyrone Crawford probably getting more looks as the 3-tech again.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
Free agent addition Joe Thomas is looking like a total steal. He may now be their first man off the bench, even ahead of the first-round rookie.
The Cowboys have as much LB depth as they've had in some time. While we'd certainly never want to be without Sean Lee, they are much more ready to deal with it now than in the past.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Charvarius Ward
We're still waiting for a clear favorite to emerge for the final spot at CB. I'm sticking with Ward just because I've had no reason to bump him for someone else.
With Xavier Woods hurt and likely to miss Week One, the roster spot could come from corner. Dallas has kept just four guys in the past, and the top four right now are all healthy.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Jeron Johnson, Tyree Robinson
Changes: Added Johnson, Robinson
Removed Marqueston Huff
Johnson and Robinson are just placeholders right now. Hopefully Dallas pulls off a deal for a certain safety from Seattle, but they should at least be active in looking at other team's cuts.
The Cowboys may not even keep a fifth guy, regardless of Woods' status. They can always play Byron Jones at safety if another injury happens. They might want to use that roster spot at another position.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
We've only gotten to see Dan Bailey attempt one field goal this preseason, so some of the questions from last year still linger. But the Cowboys appear confident enough to keep him shelved in these games, which seems like a good sign.