The 2021 NFL offseason is far from over. But as team’s continue to pick through unsigned free agents and work on their draft boards, thoughts of who could make the eventual 53-man roster are already at the forefront of their decision making. What’s the Dallas Cowboys’ roster starting to look like after the first wave of free agency?
While changes to roster math could still be coming, like we saw last year in response to the pandemic, for now we still expect the traditional 53 players per team. Even if they keep last year’s provision for practice squad players to be used on game days, that would still preserve the standard 53-man roster.
Assuming this will still be NFL policy in 2021, let’s put together a projected 2021 roster for the Cowboys based on the players they currently have under contract. While further free agent signings and the draft are still ahead, this exercise will help us see what Dallas has accomplished so far this offseason and where the biggest needs remain.
Offense Depth Chart (24)
- QB: Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci
- RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
- FB: Sewo Olonilua
- WR: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown
- WR: Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson
- TE: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon
- OT: Tyron Smith, Ty Nsekhe
- G: Connor WIlliams,
- C: Tyler Biadasz, Adam Redmond
- G: Zack Martin, Connor McGovern
- OT: La’el Collins, Brandon Knight
This side of the ball doesn’t leave a lot of room for imagination. The usual questions about whether or not they keep a third quarterback or a true fullback are there, but the names filling out most of the depth chart might as well be written in stone.
Thankfully, there are no glaring weaknesses unless the offense gets hit hard with injuries. This is one of the top groups in football if the starters can stay on the field better than we saw in 2020.
Players like Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, and Dalton Schultz provide Dallas some exceptional depth at skill positions. Newly-signed swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, Brandon Knight, and Connor McGovern are solid backups for the offensive line.
Backup QB is arguably the Cowboys’ biggest need now on offense. While Garrett Gilbert’s one solid day against the Steelers has some fans already putting him in the Ring of Honor, that’s hardly the kind of insurance you want behind Dak Prescott following a major season-ending a leg injury.
Dallas certainly could go into 2021 with this offense and be competitive. And if they happen to draft a potential “generational” tight end from Florida with the 10th overall pick, who knows what sort of numbers they could produce?
Defense Depth Chart (26)
- DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tarell Basham, Bradlee Anae
- DT: Trysten Hill, Antwaun Woods, Carlos Watkins
- DT: Neville Gallimore, Brent Urban
- DE: Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong
- OLB: Jaylon Smith, Luke Gifford
- MLB: Leighton Vander Esch, Francis Bernard
- OLB: Keanu Neal, Azur Kamara
- CB: Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, C.J. Goodwin
- CB: Jourdan Lewis, Maurice Canady,
- S: Damontae Kazee, Darian Thompson, Reggie Robinson
- S: Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse
We can expect several more changes to this list by the start of the season. The Cowboys may end up signing Linebacker K.J. Wright or using those funds on some other defensive free agent, plus they’re expected to focus heavily on defense in the draft.
Sean Lee remains undecided on his NFL future. But even if he does keep playing, Lee’s a free agent and may not get a chance to continue his career in Dallas.
The Cowboys could go a lot of directions with their early draft picks. If Kyle Pitts is gone at #10, and even if he’s there, drafting a top cornerback to pair with Trevon Diggs may still be their move.
Prospects like Dorance Armstrong, Luke Gifford, Darian Thompson, and other names could easily be replaced by the next crop of rookie talent. These are all players who we’ve waited to see deliver on potential and it just hasn’t happened yet. A fresher face with a cheap four-year contract tends to become the more attractive option.
If young talent like Hill, Gallimore, Diggs, and Wilson all progress in 2021 then this defensive unit has some hope. Reclaiming Vander Esch and Smith at linebacker will be crucial to success and hopefully free agent additions like Neal, Kazee, and Urban will prove more fruitful than last year’s attempted upgrades.
Thankfully, with cap dollars left to spend and plenty of draft picks in their pocket, the Cowboys have all the resources needed to fix the defense. Unlike last year, they need to make better choices on who they add and hopefully get much more out of the man hired to coach them.
The last three spots appear to be already be spoken for on special teams. Kicker Greg Zuerleon, Punter Hunter Niswander, and Long Snapper Jake McQuaide have no competition thus fair and should be your specialists for 2021.