The first practice of the Dallas Cowboys' 2018 training camp is today. Therefore, it seems a great time for a new 53-man roster projection.
My last projection was after the draft, and there have been some developments with the roster since then. One defensive lineman got reinstated by the NFL, while another got suspended for the first four weeks. We also have reports from camps in May and June that have given us more clarity about the talent currently in Oxnard, CA.
So, without further ado, let's start the projecting. Along with the current picks and analysis, changes from the previous edition will also be listed.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
The days when Dallas only kept one backup QB appear to be over. Given Rush's performance last year, they didn't need to spend a fifth-round pick on White. But they did, and this signifies a move to more of a "pipeline" handling of QB talent.
Of course, this depends on both Rush and White performing well enough to deserve roster spots. The Cowboys could certainly end up cutting one of them if they don't merit keeping.
But given what we've already seen out of Cooper, and the draft pick invested in the rookie, it's hard to see either playing their way off the roster.
Running Back (5)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin,
Bo Scarbrough, Jamize Olawale (FB)
Five sounds like a lot, but remember that we're lumping the fullback into the group. We're also listing Austin as a RB, as the Cowboys official website does, even though he is likely to be a hybrid player both rushing and receiving.
Scarbrough is an interesting case. We're all excited about him getting a head of steam running behind the Cowboys' offensive line. But how much will he actually get to play with the first-team line? Will he get to look impressive behind Joe Looney and Chaz Green?
Helping the rookie is that Rod Smith has an expiring contract, so I think Dallas will find ways to give Bo looks to determine his long-term value. A battering ram is nice as a backup, particularly for later in games after the defense is already worn down.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams,
Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown
I'm still not convinced that Williams makes the team this year. His public intoxication arrest earlier this year, and the general disappointment with his play last season, don't give him job security. His contract is probably the only reason he's still around, as Dallas eats a lot of dead money by releasing him.
But at this point, the Cowboys can afford to eat that cap space if they want to. And depending on what rookie Michael Gallup and other young prospects like Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir, and Cedrick Wilson bring to the table, Dallas might want Terrance's roster spot more than the player.
Veteran Deonte Thompson is another one who I'm not entirely sure about. He only signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal and can be cut easily. At 29-years-old, Thompson has little cushion for performance issues.
Given Tavon Austin's ability to play receiver, Dallas could easily go with just five guys here to free up a roster spot somewhere else. But how much uncertainty there is in the passing game right now, I think they go long to keep their options open.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, Dalton Schultz
Changes: Added Gathers, Removed Blake Jarwin
Only three TEs seems light for the Cowboys, but there are a few reasons for it. One is that they are going long at RB and WR, so the spot has to come from somewhere. Also, FB Jamize Olawale has the size to play some TE and has done so in the past with Oakland.
Another reason is that Dallas is apparently moving to more of a spread offense, thinking it will bring out the best in Dak Prescott. That further alleviates the need for tight ends on the roster.
I'm putting Gathers here on faith right now, hoping that he's going to take the next step this year to capitalize on his athletic potential. Swaim and Schultz are locked into their spots, so it really comes down to Rico and Blake if they only keep one more guy.
Dallas clearly likes Jarwin, having signed him to the roster last year to avoid the Eagles poaching him off the practice squad. But if Rico starts really putting things together this year, his upside is greater.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Changes: Added Green
No surprises in the top three. Your starters are clear and Fleming was brought in to be the trusted swing tackle, having started 20 regular season games with the Patriots plus playoff action.
As much as it pains me, I put Chaz Green on the roster based on a few inescapable truths. He has position flex as a tackle and guard, which gives him value. He also was a former third-round pick, which will make it harder for the team to give up on him.
The way I see it, Joe Looney and Marcus Martin are competing for the backup center position. They both can play guard as well. Having Green as a G/T option is the better value, assuming he has a decent camp and preseason.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Changes: Removed Joe Looney
The starters appear set, with two spots obvious and the rookie Williams getting every opportunity to win the job at left guard. How Connor does in that quest could have a ripple effect on the entire offensive line.
If Williams struggles, Dallas may look at Looney or Martin to move into the starting lineup. There's always the La'el Collins option too, but the Cowboys appear committed to keeping him at tackle this year.
Given his time in the system, Looney may be more attractive as a starter. But if Williams starts, I see Dallas going with Martin for the backup role given that he's three years younger and could have a little more upside.
If Chaz Green is a total bust and gets cut, Dallas should keep both Looney and Martin as reserves.
~ ~ ~
That's 25 roster spots on offense. And with three definitely going to Kicker Dan Bailey, Punter Chris Jones, and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur as the specialists, that leaves 25 more for defense.
Mind you, it's not always an even split between offensive and defensive roster numbers. We've often seen one or two more guys on defense given the rotations and need for greater depth. But this year, with the offense undergoing some overhaul, this is how I see it shaking out.
Let's head over to the other side of the ball.
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy,
Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong
Back in May, I had Gregory on the list with the hope that he'd be reinstated. I'm so glad that I can keep him here now his return is official.
For the first time in a while, this isn't a very hard group to predict. Lawrence and Charlton are easy, and veteran free agent Kony Ealy would have to be really bad to lose his job so quickly. I expect Ealy will be far from bad as he returns to the 4-3 scheme and gets to beat up in backup blockers this preseason.
Rounding out the group will be two pass-rushing specialists in Gregory and the rookie Armstrong. We don't know how quickly Randy will get his football legs back under him, but the Cowboys appear very excited for his return. And Dorance needs time to work on his NFL body, but the team spent a fourth-round pick on him. Those guys don't get cut often.
The loser here is Charles Tapper, who is likely to be the odd man out unless he has a stellar camp and preseason. It's been two seasons of health-related disappointment for the former fourth-rounder, but he'll get his opportunity to prove he still has value.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Jihad Ward, Brian Price,
Richard Ash, Datone Jones
Changes: Added Ash, Price, and Jones.
Removed Maliek Collins, David Irving, and Terrell McClain
So yeah, in May I put McClain on the roster because I was so confident he'd sign with the Cowboys as a free agent. But he went to the Falcons instead. So yeah.
Irving isn't on here because he's suspended for Week 1-4. We'll have to see what happens when he gets out of rehab and if his absence doesn't get prolonged. I also didn't include Collins, who is starting camp on the PUP list, because I have a feeling Dallas may go ahead and let him recover through the start of the regular season.
That means big opportunity at defensive tackle. Jihad Ward, the former second-round pick who Dallas traded WR Ryan Switzer to Oakland for, should get the most work from these absences. The Cowboys clearly believe they can get something out of him that the Raiders couldn't.
Brian Price was working as the 1-tech tackle prior to his injury last year, and Richard Ash did well later in the season. I think both make the squad for as long as Maliek Collins is out.
Lastly there's Datone Jones, who impressed as a late-season signing last year. Jones has versatility to play end or tackle, making him an ideal guy to round out the line.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
Until we see more from this group, these are the names I'm most confident about. The first four are certain, while Thomas and JML have experience.
That said, there are several young prospects who could push their way in. Rookie Chris Covington was a sixth-round pick, which isn't a guarantee but will at least get him some extra attention from coaches. There's also Tre'von Johnson, who was with the Cowboys practice squad most of last year and brought back this season.
Linebacker is a position where there's almost always a surprise. Special teams comes into play and gives some unexpected darkhorse a lot more value then you realized going in. That is where Covington, Johnson, or some other guy has to make an impact to make the team.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones,
Anthony Brown, Duke Thomas, Kameron Kelly
Your top four are set and Duke Thomas feels like a virtual lock. He was going to make the team last year if he hadn't been injured during preseason.
The last spot goes to Kelly over Marquez White given his college experience at safety. I have Dallas only keeping three safeties right now thanks to Byron Jones' position flex, but Kelly helps that as well.
A few weeks ago, White was charged with felony assault and we'll have to see how that process plays out. He does have potential, especially with Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard's preference for physical corners. But Marquez's availability remains in question.
Another guy to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie Charvarious Ward, who came from a small school but is 6'1" with upside. He was considered one of the best rookie talents, league-wide, to go undrafted this year.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
While we're still keep one eye on Seattle for a potential newcomer at safety, the three Dallas already has are pretty interesting.
Heath is now one of the veteran leaders of the defense, with 27 seeming almost geriatric now on this very young Cowboys roster. If he can become more consistent while maintaining his knack for getting interceptions, Jeff could be in line for a breakout season.
Xavier Woods is one of the most exciting young players on the defense, flashing hard hits and a nose for the ball last season. He is likely to be the other starter, having the best potential to play free safety.
Kavon Frazier shouldn't be ignored, though. After sitting out a lot of his rookie year, Frazier showed up last season isn't far behind Woods in terms of intrigue. Even if the young guys can't force Heath out of the starting lineup, we should see all three a lot this season.
One other name to watch out for is Marqueston Huff, a fifth-year veteran and former fourth-round pick of the Titans. He has experience and could become more valuable if there's an injury to one of the top three.
~ ~ ~
So there you have it. As of now, before all of the camp reports and knee-jerk reactions and injuries that change everything, there's your 53-man roster projection for the start of training camp.
I'll be back with a new projection following the Cowboys' first preseason game.
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.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Will Cowboys OT La’el Collins Be a 2019 Salary Cap Casualty?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Dallas Cowboys Offense
Player News2 weeks ago
A Lot Had to Happen for Amari Cooper to Join the Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
2019 Player Watch: Cowboys Should Keep an eye on Kyle Rudolph’s Situation
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Will Cowboys S Jeff Heath Be a 2019 Salary Cap Casualty?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Will Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Be a 2019 Salary Cap Casualty?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Pre-draft Moves Cowboys Should Consider Making in Free Agency
Star Blog2 weeks ago
3 Uncertainties Surrounding The Cowboys Offseason