It's still a little early in the offseason to predict what the team will look like when the 2018 season gets underway. But, I thought it was a good time to share with you what I think the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster could look like on opening day.
Now, the Dallas Cowboys have only had a little over a month of organized team activities and minicamp, which isn't a lot of time to know how to shape the roster for the season, but it's a start. How these players end up performing in training camp and preseason will ultimately determine their fate with the Cowboys this season.
I decided to break up my prediction for the Cowboys 53-man roster into a couple of articles. Today, I will share with you which players I think make the final cuts on the offensive side of the ball.
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
I thought I'd start my Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster prediction with the only position I believe is set in stone right now. We shouldn't see any changes to this group unless an unfortunate injury were to happen during training camp.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
The Dallas Cowboys typically like to carry just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but I think they will go with three this year after spending a fifth-round draft pick on QB Mike White. Cooper Rush showed enough promise last season to beat out Kellen Moore to be Prescott's backup QB and should reprise that role once again this year. White could challenge for that responsibility, but Rush has the advantage with a year in the system.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin, Bo Scarbrough
I went back and forth about whether or not to keep a traditional fullback on the Cowboys 53-man roster, but ultimately decided against it. Dallas did send a 2018 fifth-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders to acquire Jamize Olawale, but I think Rod Smith can fill that role if needed. The Cowboys have already classified Austin as a "web back", but he will receive touches as a RB and WR. Scarbrough gets the nod for now over Darius Jackson, but that could change.
Wide Receiver (6)
Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson
I can't see the Cowboys carrying less than six WRs on their game day roster with all of the unknown at the position, despite Austin's receiving ability. This is almost a completely revamped position with quite a bit of youth. Beasley will reprise his role in the slot and Hurns/Gallup will likely be the ones asked to replace Dez Bryant's production. Brown could push for more playing time at Williams' expense and Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in offseason practices already.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Is it time to give up on Rico Gathers? Yes, I think so. Unless he is able to show that he is capable of handling all of his responsibilities as a complete TE in training camp and in the preseason, I don't give him much of a chance to make the Cowboys 53-man roster. Much like the WR position, there is a lot of unknown about the current group of TEs. But, this is an athletic group and I think they will be just fine this season.
Offensive Line (8)
Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Connor Williams, Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
The position flex of the Cowboys offensive lineman allows them to go with just eight this season. Connor Williams will be the only new starter and Cameron Fleming should take over the role as the new swing tackle. I decided to keep both Joe Looney and Marcus Martin because of her ability to play any of the interior positions. But, the Cowboys could decide to keep one of the two and stick with Chaz Green for another season.
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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