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Cowboys Roster: Dallas Made Right Decisions on Unproven Skill Players

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Roster: Dallas Made Right Decisions on Unproven Skill Players
(Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

We made it. The Dallas Cowboys are preparing for their first regular season game of 2018, traveling to the Panthers for week one on Sunday. To get here, the team had to make some tough decisions on cut down day, moving on from players like Dan Bailey while seeing Running Back Darius Jackson and Defensive Tackle Brian Price poached from the practice squad.

The Cowboys roster build was also a conclusion to their overhaul at the skill positions. It's hard to believe that it's been just one offseason, but in a year's time the Cowboys have now lost Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Bailey.

Bailey's replacement is very clearly Brett Maher, the former CFL kicker who I profiled here.

As for who the Cowboys will look to catch passes and gain yards on the ground beyond Ezekiel Elliott, I believe the team made all the right decisions with the six receivers, four tight ends, and two running backs on the current 53-man roster.

Let's take a closer look at each position to see how the Cowboys got here, and who missed the cut along the way.

Wide Receiver

On the roster: Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley

I think the day has finally arrived where I can introduce some analysis on the Cowboys receivers without the "here we go again" preface. This was easily the Cowboys most discussed position throughout training camp, and for good reason.

Michael Gallup's emergence as a rookie beyond his years really helped this receiving corps take shape for the Cowboys. It feels like Gallup is already close to a proven commodity, as the third-round pick has brought the same toughness and finishing ability that made him a heralded prospect out of Colorado State.

Fellow rookie receiver Cedrick Wilson lost his first season to a shoulder injury early in the offseason, an unfortunate break for the speedster out of Boise State. This likely had an impact on Deonte Thompson's presence on the final roster, as he was signed back after Noah Brown was placed on IR.

Brown was likely in danger of losing his roster spot to Lance Lenoir if both were on the 53, but with the Cowboys being able to stash Brown they moved Lenoir to the practice squad. Between Williams, Beasley, Gallup, and Hurns the Cowboys have enough receivers that are known contributors - making it hard for Lenoir to find the active roster.

Dres Anderson, K.D.Cannon, Darren Carrington, and Mekale McCay were the Cowboys receivers cut and are not back on the roster or practice squad. Anderson made the most flashes in the preseason, despite signing later than the other three, but certainly didn't do enough to upend a player like Tavon Austin - who rounds out this group of receivers.

Running Back

On the roster: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Rod Smith's strong preseason made the Cowboys competition behind him at running back much less important. This team wants the world to know that Ezekiel Elliott is their featured player on offense, and former Ohio State Buckeye Rod Smith is the perfect complement to Elliott.

Both players are capable pass catchers that run hard, yet have the ability to take any run the distance.

Gone are the days of Tavon Austin being considered a running back in the Cowboys offense, but this doesn't mean that Austin won't be targeted out of the backfield. The same can be said about Fullback Jamize Olawale, as the Cowboys are still as committed to their running game as always, just with different points of emphasis and roster numbers allocated elsewhere.

Playing in mop up duty against the Texans, Running Back Jordan Chunn was the Cowboys cut from this position along with Darius Jackson (signed by the Packers) and rookie Bo Scarbrough - who is back with the team on the practice squad.

Scarbrough's long-term potential as a depth option in the backfield makes him the perfect practice squad running back for the Cowboys, and with only two active running backs an injury to either will certainly give Scarbrough his day in the sun.

Rico Gathers Flashes Again, But is it Enough to Stick Around?

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

Tight End

On the roster: Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin

Replacing Jason Witten in the Cowboys locker room will take more than four players, and perhaps more than the team will ever have again. Witten traded in his star for a suit, joining the Monday Night Football broadcast team, and one day that suit will be gold as he walks into Canton.

In terms of replacing just Witten's on-field production, the Cowboys are in good position to do this thanks to their versatile group of tight ends. Second-year sensation Blake Jarwin has earned an expanded role all through the offseason, even being worked as an outside receiver once the Cowboys camp returned to The Star.

Jarwin's size makes him the match up nightmare against linebackers that the Cowboys are finally committing to also make Rico Gathers. The converted basketball player has gone from the practice squad to the active roster in year two.

Geoff Swaim is somehow the "old man" in the TE room for the Cowboys, and also the most complete player at this position. Swaim will be the closest thing the Cowboys have to a starter at tight end, with the rest of this group working in on heavier packages.

As a more than willing run blocker, this is an area that rookie Dalton Schultz can help in, if given the chance.

David Wells was the lone cut off the Cowboys roster at tight end.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Now that the Cowboys have their 53-man roster set, the next step will be to pick the 46 active players that represent them against the Panthers. While both running backs will be active, it's unlikely that the Cowboys carry six receivers and four tight ends into game day.

Sunday's game will provide further context into how the Cowboys feel about their depth at these skill positions, which has them set up for success. The Cowboys wide receivers should catch teams by surprise this year, and the same might be said about their tight ends as Swaim and Jarwin look to prove they're legitimate options for Dak Prescott in the passing game.

All of the players mentioned above will rely on a certain level of effectiveness from Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys to finish off drives this season. This is nothing new to the coaches that built this roster though, with new position coaches at WR and TE having a positive influence on the roster already.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Roster: Dallas Made Right Decisions on Unproven Skill Players" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?

Jess Haynie

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Darius Jackson

The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?

Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.

Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.

A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?

Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.

What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?

Dallas Cowboys Need More From RB Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.

But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.

This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.

Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.

What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?

Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.

What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.

Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.

Justice Hill

Oklhoma St. RB Justice Hill

The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.

One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.

Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.

You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.

And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.

Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.

However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten Retiring, Joining MNF Broadcast Booth

When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.

The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.

With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”

As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.

Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.

Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.

On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.

The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.

And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.

The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.

Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones

Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.

They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.

George Iloka

The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.

Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.

So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR.  What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.

Cowboys en Español: La Afortunada Llegada de Randall Cobb

Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.

Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.

Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).

For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.

Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.

In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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