The Dallas Cowboys will need to make five roster moves by 4:00pm on Tuesday to meet the first cutdown deadline of the 2021 preseason. Based on what we know today, who might soon be asked to go get their playbook?
As we broke down for you a few weeks ago, the cut days for 2021 are different from past seasons. By 4:00 pm EST this Tuesday, all NFL teams must reduce their rosters down from 90 to 85 players. A week later it's 80 players, and then the final cuts to 53 have to be made by August 31st.
With two weeks left in preseason these early cuts are going to be heavily influenced by having enough bodies to facilitate games and practices. While merit will certainly be a factor, the numbers game throughout the roster will probably be a bigger one.
This is especially true given what we saw during Friday night's preseason game. Down went Neville Gallimore, Sean McKeon, and Ty Nsekhe to varying degrees of injury, perhaps keeping an extra DT, TE, or OT on the roster a little longer than the team might have originally expected.
Keep in mind that reducing the roster size isn't just through cuts. The Cowboys could place a qualifying player on injured reserve, but doing so now would make that player ineligible to return at any point in 2021. A player has to go through final cuts and make the 53, then go on IR, if you want to bring him back during the season.
With all that said, here are the five roster moves I think might happen between now and Tuesday:
1. TE Sean McKeon placed on IR
McKeon suffered a high ankle sprain on Friday and could be out 4-6 weeks. More of a receiver than a blocker, the second-year TE might not get on the field much this year if both Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz stay healthy.
Dallas can stash McKeon on IR for 2021 to protect the asset for next year, when he just might be TE2 if Schultz leaves in free agency or Jarwin is made a cap casualty. While we never root for injury for anyone, this opportunity may actually be in the Cowboys' favor given other roster needs.
Veteran Jeremy Sprinkle is already here to fill the TE depth chart as a blocker, taking over Blake Bell's role from last season. This is a more ideal use of that TE3 spot and would then allow Dallas to devote a roster spot to another position.
2. FB Sewo Olonilua placed on IR
After injuring his neck in the Hall of Fame Game, Olonilua was reportedly “out for a while” but the team hasn't made a move yet. We don't even know if they intend to keep a fullback at all this season after having not done so in 2020.
However, the other fullback contender Nick Ralston was one of the standouts on Friday night both with some run blocking and on special teams. With another viable FB option to turn to, Dallas could put Sewo on IR and avoid having to cut a player elsewhere.
3. LB Anthony Hines placed on IR
Hines suffered an injury to his upper arm on Friday night and had to be carted to the locker room. While the full extent of the injury it not yet known, the UDFA was not projected to make the 53 and probably wouldn't be much use to the team for the next two weeks.
That said, Dallas is already missing Francis Bernard as LB depth with a hamstring issue. With Hines also gone now the Cowboys may have to look into adding someone at LB just to make it through the rest of August.
4. One of the WR prospects released
I'm not going to pretend that I know how these coaches feel about T.J. Vasher versus Brennan Eagles and 2-3 other receivers currently in camp. We've seen more of Reggie Davis, Malik Turner, and a couple others in the preseason games, but those are a limited window compared to all the unseen things from practices and meetings.
One thing that is clear, though, is that we have an abundance of WR prospects and room to cut at least one of them. I could easily see two cuts here given the numbers, but I'm going to go another way for the fifth roster move.
5. CB Kyron Brown released
A late addition to the training camp roster, Brown hasn't made any noteworthy waves over the last few weeks. With nine other cornerbacks already vying for roster spots, this seems like one of the easier moves unless the coaches have seen things we've yet to hear about.
~ ~ ~
Of course, these are just deductions based on the limited evidence we have to go by. Dallas may not want to close the door on McKeon, Olonilua, or Hines yet if they think the injuries aren't going to keep them out long. Or they may have soured on guys at other positions.
Also, remember that five moves are only the minimum needed to satisfy the NFL's requirement. If the Cowboys do want to add another LB or swap some guys out based on other team's cuts, the changes over the next few days may be a little heavier as the bottom of the roster gets churned.