While the NFL free agent market seems to have come to a sudden halt recently, there is still plenty of offseason left for the Dallas Cowboys to add new talent and make other other moves, Next month's NFL Draft is major event still coming, but free agency is also far from over.
Today, I thought it would be a good exercise to construct a 53-man roster using just the players we already have under contract. This should give us good insight into where the Cowboys' biggest needs are and, more than likely, where their focus will be in the upcoming draft.
Before we get started, a couple of ground rules:
- Tony Romo is still under contract but I'm going to assume that he won't be a Cowboy next year. My belief is that he will retire if nothing else happens.
- Randy Gregory is currently suspended through the regular season, so we'll assume that won't be changing. There are still some legal remedies he could pursue but we'll deal with that if it ever comes.
So, now that we're all on the same page, let's build a roster.
Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
After one of the most spectacular rookie seasons in NFL history, Dak Prescott's hold on the Cowboys' quarterback position couldn't be tighter. He will go into 2017 as the unchallenged starter and with that expectation for many years to come.
Kellen Moore was re-signed from free agency and brings system familiarity that no other veteran option could offer. Some have groaned after Moore failed to win any games in 2015, but the Cowboys clearly feel that Moore can bring something to the table.
With Prescott's youth and Moore as the veteran backup, we could easily see Dallas go back to keeping just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. This was their policy many years during Tony Romo's tenure.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Keith Smith (FB)
There's no questioning the roster spots for Elliott and McFadden. Also, Keith Smith emerged last year as a solid blocking fullback who provides versatile value at linebacker and special teams. He should feel secure in his job.
The big question now is what happens with Alfred Morris. Dallas could release him for about $1.6 million in cap relief, but they have yet to make that move even after re-signing McFadden. The Cowboys may be holding on to Morris through the draft, or even through final cuts, just to see how things shake out.
I would not be surprised to see Dallas add a speed back with receiving skills as a replacement for Lance Dunbar. That player could push Morris out the door eventually.
Dallas surprised most of us be re-signing both Williams and Butler. The moves speak to a strategy of counting on returning offensive talent to yield the same results as last year, leaving you free to focus on defense in the draft.
Last year's training camp darling, Andy Jones, is expected to push for a job this offseason. He could force Butler out the door; Dallas gave Butler little guaranteed money to leave him expendable if needed. However, we could also see a mid-round WR talent drafted that will compete with both Butler and Jones.
You may be wondering who's going to return kicks with Lucky Whitehead gone. We'll get to that later.
Tight End (4)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
If the Cowboys spend their first-round pick on offense it will almost assuredly be at tight end. Many expect for 2017 to be Witten's last year before retirement.
My preference is that Dallas use this year to see what they already have in the cupboard. James Hanna got a nice contract last year to return as the backup TE but injury kept him from playing. Geoff Swaim was looking like a solid all-around player before also getting hurt. Rico Gathers remains an intriguing physical specimen who reportedly had a great year on the practice squad.
If none of these guys earn your trust next season, then you can spend a high pick on Witten's replacement or look to free agency. A first-round talent should be able to come in and play immediately, which isn't needed right now with Witten still here.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Tyron Smith, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, Byron Bell
After signing Bell just a few days ago, the Cowboys appear to be loading up on guys to compete for the right tackle position after Doug Free's retirement. Bell has started in 72 of the 78 games he's played in since entering the league in 2011.
Don't assume that Bell is the front-runner with that experience. The Cowboys got to see how Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary look in starting roles last season and both performed well. Green was a third-round pick in 2015 and the team would love to see him take over at right tackle.
If Green does win the job, his injury history could push Dallas to keep an extra offensive tackle on staff beyond just the usual swing tackle. Bell, who can also play guard, would fit that role nicely with his versatility.
Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Jonathan Cooper
With Ronald Leary headed to Denver, the left guard job goes back to Collins. Still just a third-year player, Collins will hopefully blossom and build on the flashes of elite talent we saw in 2015.
Veteran Jonathan Cooper was re-signed to provide experienced depth and perhaps push Collins a little for the starting job. Cooper was once a first-round pick who has had his own injury problems. We could also see Byron Bell, who was expected to move to guard last year before injury, competing with Cooper for the backup job.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
This position feels solidified with the All-Pro starter and the veteran backup. Dallas might add some younger guys to compete with Looney, but for now he should be expected to return.
Defensive End (4)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Damontre Moore
Everyone expects Dallas to add a pass-rushing end in the upcoming draft. It's hard to project who will be there at the 28th pick, and you'd be right to be worried that that player won't be able to provide the sort of catalytic spark that this defensive line needs.
Lawrence, Mayowa, and Tapper will certainly be here to compete for jobs. Lawrence should at least be a solid starter and could really shine if he moves back to his natural position as the strong-side end. Mayowa and Tapper should provide quality depth and rotation duty but neither is likely able to bring a significant improvement to the pass rush.
Whatever rookies the Cowboys add will likely push Damontre Moore out by final cuts. The underachieving DE was signed a few weeks ago but has never played up to his third-round pick potential.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, David Irving, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea
Assigning position for some of defensive linemen is tricky business. Crawford and Irving will both likely play snaps at defensive end throughout the season, either due to injuries or just certain personnel packages.
By signing Stephen Paea to replace Terrell McClain, the Cowboys have at least stocked up the DT position and shouldn't need to address it in the draft. They already have a young stud in Maliek Collins and plenty of veteran depth to go with him.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Jeremiah George
Even with Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar leaving in free agency, the Cowboys still have a solid crew at linebacker. Jaylon Smith's debut will hopefully lock down the middle, leaving Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson to compete for the strong-side position. The loser of that battle will still be a key backup.
Kyle Wilber brings veteran depth and special teams value. Mark Nzeocha will hopefully stay healthy and build on a strong 2016 preseason.
I expect Dallas to keep seven linebackers due to Sean Lee's age and Jaylon Smith's health concerns. Right now the only other guy under contract is Jeremiah George, a fifth-round pick by Jets in 2014. George will likely be competing with several rookie prospects for a job.
Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, Leon McFadden, Jeremiah McKinnon
With Brown and Carroll stepping into the spaces occupied by Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, Dallas shouldn't be too bad off compared to last year. Their goal in the draft, though, is no doubt to improve their depth and perhaps even find a second starter.
If they can't, Leon McFadden at least brings experience as a fourth cornerback. Sadly, he is best known for getting burned by the Steelers' trick play last season.
McKinnon was an undrafted free agent who Dallas kept until final cuts last year. He was on the Titans practice squad in 2016 but then Dallas brought him back in January. That he was still on the Cowboys' radar is intriguing and makes me want to keep an eye on him this July.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Jameil Showers
Like at cornerback, Dallas will almost certainly be adding some talent here. Few would be surprised to see them use their first-round pick on a new starter.
That said, I am comfortable with Jeff Heath starting if needed. He has a nose for the ball and might play even better if he gets full-time starter reps in practice.
The depth is the real concern now. Dallas will be hoping that Kazon Frazier can at least be a capable backup despite little playing time in his rookie season. He will likely be competing for that job with another drafted talent or perhaps even a veteran addition still to come.
Dallas converted Jameil Showers from quarterback to safety last year while he was on the practice squad. We'll have to wait until training camp to see how that goes. If he can apply QB smarts to safety, Showers could be surprisingly dangerous in the role.
Special Teams (4)
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS), Quincy McDuffie (KR/PR)
No surprises at kicker, punter, or long snapper, I'm sure. The one thing we might see is a young long snapper coming in to compete with 36-year-old Ladouceur, but it will take a lot to mess with perfection.
I've put McDuffie here as the return specialist as a placeholder. I think Dallas is probably done with Lucky Whitehead after uninspiring play and some behavior issues last season. McDuffie was a standout return man in the CFL, but I imagine he will be competing with several other prospects this year.
Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary
The Dallas Cowboys best move of the offseason may very well be hiring Kris Richard as their new passing game coordinator. Despite not signing any free agents or drafting added talent for Richard to work with in the secondary, the Cowboys have plenty of reasons to feel great about their current starters - along with an intriguing class of UDFAs.
The prospects of Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones, and Xavier Woods working with Richard to sharpen their skills with Seattle's "Legion of Boom" fabricator is as good as it gets. In a very short period of time, the cornerback position has turned into one of the hardest spots for fringe players to make the Dallas Cowboys roster.
Don't tell this to San Diego State's Kameron Kelly. Neither Richard or Kelly may be household names around the NFL, but San Francisco 49ers Cornerback Richard Sherman certainly is. Sherman also happens to be the player the Cowboys are looking for Kelly -- an undrafted free agent that didn't receive a single college offer from "power five" schools -- to emulate.
Given all that Sherman meant to Richard's defenses since being drafted by his Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, these feel like impossible expectations for Kelly to live up to.
The 6015 (6' 1 5/8") defender didn't even play the same position as Sherman until his final collegiate season, slowly making the transition from WR to DB at SDSU by starting as a Sophomore and Junior at safety.
Now just another player in a blue jersey with white numbers at The Star, Kelly is looking to earn the star on a team that may look to remain young, deep, and most importantly versatile in the secondary by keeping one or more UDFAs.
That is, if any of these long shot players deserve a spot on the final 53-man roster. Kelly already has an edge on this field, blessed with the length and daunting frame that allows Richard and the Cowboys to dream of featuring their own Richard Sherman.
"I think he’s trying to turn me into his next Richard Sherman or something". - Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Kameron Kelly
Kris Richard is going to coach everybody he comes across hard. He knows no other way. Kam Kelly is already embracing this, seeing the Cowboys vision for him and not backing down from the challenge.
Turn on the tape for this "diamond in the rough" prospect, and you'll see a player that carries this same competitive toughness onto the field.
Will a DB compete / tackle ? Top of screen- flat footed read on bubble- trusts eyes and goes ! Just checking boxes- I see you, kameron Kelly of SDSU.... https://t.co/fJM4s16Eq1
Kelly joins Charvarius Ward, Donovan Olumba, and Tyree Robinson as the Cowboys class of UDFAs at both cornerback and safety. An athletic DB out of Oregon, Robinson has made a strong initial impression with several plays on the ball in drills so far.
However, it was Kam Kelly that set up an interception for Jameill Showers in yesterday's practice by getting in the face of rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup.
Projecting anything that resembles a starting lineup for the Cowboys defense in the last week of May is silly. So too is realistically expecting Kelly, Ward, Olumba, or Robinson to ever crack this lineup.
The Cowboys could find themselves without enough practice snaps to go around for starting caliber players like Awuzie, Lewis, Jones, Anthony Brown, and even Marquez White. This does not bode well for Kam Kelly, who is only going to continue generating buzz from fans and the Dallas media.
For now, Kelly is getting his chance though. The Cowboys are ever-so-slowly getting back into form for 2018 - doing so with many familiar faces no longer on the roster. This team is going to look different on both sides of the ball come September, and Cowboys Nation can only hope it's for the better given the impressive amount of depth all over the field.
Kam Kelly won't back down from the depth the Cowboys have at CB, expecting to impress his new coach Kris Richard in the mold of three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman.
WR Terrell Owens Featured As A Cowboy On Madden 2019 Cover
It's been a tumultuous few years for former Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, to say the least. Based on his numbers Owens deserved to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but due to his off field "antics" and poor relationships with voters, Owens was kept out of the Hall of Fame until this year.
Now that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Summer, Terrell Owens has earned another honor: cover athlete for EA Sports' upcoming Madden video game.
Madden has become a staple of football culture over the years, and being placed on the cover of their Hall of Fame edition is pretty special.
What came as a surprise, however, is that Terrell Owens is featured as a Dallas Cowboy on the cover of the game.
@terrellowens will be on the cover of #Madden19 Hall of Fame edition
Terrell Owens played on a multitude of teams during his NFL career, spending 3 seasons with the Cowboys from 2006-2008. People tend to forget how great the Tony Romo-to-Terrell Owens connection was in Dallas, especially during their 13-3 2007 season.
That year, Owens caught 81 balls for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also earned First Team All Pro honors during the same season.
This is the first time the Cowboys uniform has ever graced the cover of a Madden game, and the second time Terrell Owens will be on the cover of a professional football video game. The first time came as an Eagle on the cover of ESPN NFL 2K5, ironically just one year before Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was the cover athlete for Madden 2006.
Terrell Owens then announced the news himself on Twitter, by tweeting out the following video.
It's that time! I've made my decision to return to football. Madden 19 HOF #stayready https://t.co/pLL4lTAhD2
Terrell Owens is arguably the greatest (talent wise) receiver to ever play for the Cowboys, though he lacked the longevity to match any of the stat totals of guys like Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. It's a shame the 2007 season ended the way it did, and that 2008 was such an utter disaster.
Those Cowboys teams were really talented, hence why they won 11 games and another division crown after Owens' departure in 2009.
QB Dak Prescott Is Taking Control Of The Dallas Cowboys
Heading into 2018 there is no question that the Dallas Cowboys are Dak Prescott's team. While some of the Cowboys fan base is skeptical of just how good Prescott is/can be, the franchise had placed all of their eggs in the Prescott-basket over the last two offseasons.
They've begun to build the "Dak-friendly offense," attempting to recreate the circumstances which surrounded him during his highly successful rookie season. By drafting offensive lineman Connor Williams, wide receiver Michael Gallup, and signing wide out Allen Hurns the Cowboys have made a conscious effort to help their young quarterback in his development.
But what do his fellow teammates think about him? Well, thus far during OTAs, the respect they have for Dak Prescott as a quarterback and a leader is clear.
Members of Prescott's wide receiver corps have been incredibly vocal about the respect they have for Dak Prescott, including two of their newest additions. Hurns told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News that Dak "runs things" around the locker room, and that the Cowboys will have no problems with leadership as long as Dak is at the helm.
Allen Hurns: "When I first got here, what surprised me a lot was Dak's leadership. He's only in his third year, but he's a very vocal guy. He runs things. I was very surprised by that. ... I don't think we'll have a problem with leadership.
Tavon Austin chimed in as well, telling Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News that while he expected Prescott to have "some juice" to him, meeting him in person allowed him to realize that his leadership is on a different level than even he expected.
I asked Cowboys WR Tavon Austin on his impressions of Dak Prescott before his arrival in Dallas: "I always knew he had some juice to him, some swag to him and when I finally get here and meet him it's definitely a whole different ballgame because it was to even another level.
It's not only members of the offense which are showing their respect for Dak Prescott's leadership, however. Team sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence is noticing as well. This week Lawrence said that Dak is clearly taking control of the offense, and you can see it "every day in how he works."
DeMarcus Lawrence: "Dak is taking a lot of control over that offense. He's trying to take his game to the next level and be one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. You can see it every day in how he works.
There is an argument that can be made that the release of Dez Bryant and retirement of Jason Witten have allowed Dak Prescott to take that control. The veterans on offense from the Tony Romo-era have begun to disappear, and Prescott is now making the Dallas Cowboys "his team."
Of course, Prescott still has to do it on the field. While much of his first two seasons have been impressive, the final few weeks of 2017 featured some shaky play from Dak Prescott. But, the moves which were made this offseason combined with the full time return of running back Ezekiel Elliott should allow Prescott to take another step forward in 2018.
And if the Cowboys plan on being competitive as a team, they'll need Prescott to make those strides.
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