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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator
The pipe dream has been going on since former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback-turned CBS Analyst Tony Romo hung up his cleats for the black blazer. Fans from all corners of Cowboys Nation have clamored for a return to the field or at worst the sideline as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.
Let me stop you right there. It's not happening.
First of all. He's never been a coach at any level of football, so to assume that he could leave the broadcast booth and step into coaching an NFL offense and doing so at a high level is a huge leap of faith in number 9. Sure, Jon Gruden left the Monday Night Football booth for his lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders, but he had won a Super Bowl and had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL for years before joining the broadcasting ranks.
Tony Romo has an excellent understanding of football. He displays it on a regular basis during the CBS broadcasts. But doing from the broadcast view, seeing what the defense is trying to do, and calling the plays to counter what the defense is trying to do are very different things.
Secondly, the coaching job would be a major time commitment that at the moment he doesn't have. Even if he's working a 40 hour work week in preparation for his three-hour time slot, the demands on NFL coaches are easily twice that with many coaches putting in 100 hour work weeks in preparation for Sundays. Tony Romo has a family that even he's talked about as part of the reason that he went into broadcasting instead of looking to hop on with another NFL team.
Finally, the job would mean a significant pay cut from what Romo is already making. It's estimated that the former Cowboys quarterback is making anywhere from $5-10 million dollars a year with CBS. Jason Garrett is making $6 million per year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, so even if the Jones family was willing to pay first-time NFL coach Tony Romo a ton of money to come out of the broadcast booth, there's zero chance they pay him what he's making as a broadcaster. To do so, would be to undercut the head coach. Jason Garrett is Jerry Jones' guy. The owner and general manager wants Garrett to be the guy that leads the Cowboys to Super Bowl success, so there's zero chance he'd pay a coordinator close to Garrett's money, which would lead to constant speculation about the head coach and his future with the organization.
I love Tony Romo. His jersey is one of only two Cowboys jerseys that I own -- along with Darren Woodson -- and I think he could make a good coach one day, but I'd be hard pressed to see him come out of the coaching booth to take a coordinator job and have immediate success. The guys that are offensive coordinators in the NFL have been grinding for years to earn their jobs. Most started as position coaches -- see Sean McVay as Redskins TE coach. The Dallas Cowboys will spend the next few days, and perhaps weeks, identifying their replacement for Scott Linehan, but let's put to bed the dream of Romo as offensive coordinator.
It's just not going to happen.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
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