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.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys would seem fairly settled at offensive tackle for 2019, with last year's starters both still under contract and set to return. But the need for a reliable backup has become increasingly important, and Dallas may also want to use this offseason to start planning for the future.
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return to their starting roles, but not without some concern. Smith has now missed three games in each of the last three seasons, though a few of those have been for veteran rest at the end of the year.
We all remember the Chaz Green debacle in 2017 Atlanta. That led to the Cowboys paying veteran Cameron Fleming $2.5 million last season to come and play as the swing tackle, and Smith's ongoing issues with health will make his backup an offseason priority once more.
Meanwhile, Collins has started every game since taking over as the right tackle in 2017. He's been solid but not a star, which is a disappointment after his draft year hype and some of the talent he flashed at left guard during his first two seasons.
2019 is a contract year for La'el. He will turn just 27 by the 2020 season, making him an attractive potential free agent. But his play has arguably not lived up to his current salary, which has him as one of the higher-paid right tackles in the NFL already.
Anyone who has the privilege of playing next to Zack Martin has no excuses.
Even with his many trips to the Pro Bowl, Tyron Smith isn't immune to contract talk. The 2020 offseason presents Dallas with about an $8 million cap relief opportunity by releasing Smith. It would only leave them with about $5 million in dead money, which is less than they've had when releasing stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant in recent years.
While still just 28 years old, Tyron has been getting increasingly bothered by nagging injuries. Bad backs and necks tend to become lifelong issues, and we've already mentioned the games he's missed over the last few seasons.
When healthy, Smith is still about as good as they come at left tackle. But could his health issues spark an early decline in skill? And if it happens as soon as 2019, could Dallas start looking at that cap space more intently?
With Cameron Fleming now a free agent and these 2020 question marks looming on both starters, there's a good argument for the Cowboys to spend their second or third-round pick at offensive tackle.
Ideally, a "Day 2" rookie would be able to take over as the swing tackle this year. Dallas could still sign a veteran insurance policy to compete in camp and the preseason, or even carry both players next season.
But more important aspect would be taking a player now to groom for 2020, when you might need to make a big decision on either Collins or Smith's future. Or, at the very least, have a solid swing tackle in place for the duration of his four-year rookie contract.
That said, free agency starts a month-and-a-half before the NFL Draft. The Cowboys can't really afford to wait for the draft to find a swing tackle, or else they may wind up with nothing.
The simplest move would be to just re-sign Cam Fleming. He is an adequate player with plenty of experience, and could likely be retained for about the same salary as last year.
But given Fleming's age (26) and experience, which includes starting in playoff games and even a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he could attract teams looking for even more than just a backup. Thankfully, there a still a number of veterans out there if Dallas has to find a replacement.
One guy to consider, especially for just a one-year deal, is Ty Nsekhe from the Redskins. He's a native of Arlington, TX and has started 14 games over the last three seasons, backing up the oft-injured Trent Williams. On the negative side, Nsekhe turns 34 next October.
As a whole, this 2019 offseason doesn't present any immediate dangers. The Cowboys will need to figure out their swing tackle situation by either re-signing Fleming, adding a different veteran, or drafting a replacement.
But given the contract situations of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in 2020, Dallas could make a move in the next few months to help prepare for a potential big change a year from now.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker
One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.
Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.
But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.
What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.
It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.
Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.
Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.
A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.
However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.
They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.
The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.
Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.
Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.
There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.
Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit
There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.
Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.
The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.
That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.
Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.
The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.
This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.
Star Blog4 days ago
Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Dallas Cowboys Offense
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys C Travis Frederick Provides Update on Recovery, 2019 Return
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Dak Prescott Won’t Give A “Hometown Discount,” Nor Should He
Star Blog1 week ago
Should the Cowboys Try to Pry RB Duke Johnson Away From Cleveland?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Do the Dallas Cowboys Need a Veteran Backup QB in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Ride With Kicker Brett Maher in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
What Options Do the Cowboys Have With WR Allen Hurns in 2019?