When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a position or role on a team or when they're fighting for survival.
Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2018. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter or key roleplayer.
We will start with the offensive players.
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
As pictured above, the core trio on the offensive line is arguably the team's most secure players overall. Frederick and Martin are arguably the best in the NFL at their positions, and Tyron is always an elite tackle as long he remains healthy. Thankfully, it sounds like he's getting back to good health in 2018.
Despite his sophomore struggles, Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback in 2018. Even with the drop in his numbers from his historic rookie season, Dak remains in the top half of NFL passers and his potential is enormous. We may be having a different conversation next season if the problems continue, but this year he's their guy.
While there is a lot of intrigue behind Ezekiel Elliott on the running back depth chart, he is unchallenged as the team's starting RB and primary offensive weapon.The potential for Elliott to get a career-high workload, and threaten 2,000 rushing yards, is out there this season.
I also included La'el Collins in the top tier, though with an asterisk. There is no question that Collins will be a 2018 starter, but there is still a little uncertainty as to whether he will play guard or tackle. The team appears committed to keeping him at right tackle, but the option of moving him back to left guard remains out there if an injury or some other occurrence forces their hand.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
FB Jamize Olawale, WR Allen Hurns, WR Cole Beasley, OT Cam Fleming
Dallas traded a fifth-round pick to get veteran Fullback Jamize Olawale from Oakland. They had Olawale in training camp and on the practice squad back in 2012. Clearly, the Cowboys targeted him as the FB they wanted this year and there's little reason to think that will change.
Similarly, Dallas went out and signed free agent Allen Hurns to a deal that indicates he will have a starting role this year. With any new player, there's always a little room for uncertainty if he doesn't take to the offense well. But Hurns should step into the role vacated by Dez Bryant's release, and will hopefully forge better chemistry with Dak Prescott.
Cole Beasley was Dak's favorite target in 2016, and defenses figured that out and keyed on him last season. His effectiveness waned, and it's now up to Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to find ways to get Beasley open again. Whether it's a starting spot or as the slot receiver, Beasley's major role in the offense is sure to continue.
Veteran Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming was signed to be the swing man behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, and that is almost assuredly where he stays. Fleming really only has room to move up, perhaps into a starting role should Collins wind up back at guard. Either way, Fleming is locked in as a key member of the offensive line.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Rod Smith, RB Tavon Austin, WR Terrance Williams, WR Michael Gallup, G Connor Williams, TE Geoff Swaim, TE Dalton Schultz
You could argue that Cooper Rush and Mike White are both bubble players, perhaps fighting for the same roster spot, but it depends on the Cowboys' current philosophy about quarterback depth. I think they've changed from the day of keeping just two, moving to more of a pipeline model and wanting to keep talent when they find it. As such, I think both Rush and White are on the 2018 roster.
Rod Smith's experience with the team, fullback versatility, and special teams play should keep him around this year. He will have challenges to his playing time at running back from some of the new faces, but Smith offers too much value and is the only proven reserve they have.
Speaking of Austin, the speedster is sure to be here in 2018 in some capacity. Dallas didn't just give up a draft pick, even a sixth-rounder, lightly to acquire him. At worst, he should be the team's return specialist. But it appears that the Cowboys are going to find creative ways to work him into the offense and add a new element to their attack.
Despite his recent arrest, Terrance Williams should be around next year. There's no salary cap value in cutting Williams so the Cowboys will get what they can out of him in 2018, then likely move on next year. How much playing time he gets will be the question, thanks largely to exciting rookie Michael Gallup.
Second-round pick Connor Williams is a roster lock, but will he be a starter? Dallas will be asking the rookie to convert to left guard and it could be more than he can handle in his first year. At worst, Williams should be a versatile reserve option this season. But the Cowboys are hoping for much more.
The only tight ends that I would guarantee spots for are veteran Geoff Swaim and rookie Dalton Schultz. Given his experience, albeit limited, Swaim is the pack leader to replace Jason Witten as the starter. And Schultz, a fourth-round pick, will make the team in some capacity. While Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin aren't far behind, I could still see potential for them to not make the squad.
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
RB Bo Scarbrough, WR Noah Brown, WR Deonte Thompson, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, TE Blake Jarwin, G/C Joe Looney, G/C Marcus Martin, OL Chaz Green
You can make cases for any of these guys to be on the 2018 roster, but also see potential for them to be cut. In a few cases, one may have to fall for the other to survive.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough seems like a steal as a seventh-round pick. The rookie's power running will work well behind an offensive line that makes lanes for him to pick up speed. He's hardly guaranteed a roster spot, though, and could now be threatened by the return of a previous late-round RB in Darius Jackson.
There is a logjam of intriguing receivers, meaning not everyone will make the roster. Veteran Deonte Thompson was signed to a minimal deal that doesn't secure his spot on the team. He is up against the youth and potential of guys like Noah Brown, rookie Cedrick Wilson, or perhaps dark horse Lance Lenoir. The bottom of the WR depth chart will be one of the most interesting topics leading up to final cuts.
At tight end, Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin could both easily make the team. But Dallas may not need to keep four tight ends anymore with the move to more of a spread offense. What's more, fullback Jamize Olawale has the size to play the position in certain looks. It's possible that Gathers and Jarwin will be competing for just one available roster spot.
Before last week, I'd have considered Joe Looney and Marcus Martin as locks to make the team. But then Chaz Green got the first-team reps in practice at right guard, and now you have to consider Green as a challenger. Dallas may have room for all three guys to make the team, depending on how many total offensive linemen they wish to keep. But it's possible that there are only two spots for three players.
Tier 5 - Longshots
Almost every year there's a surprise or two for who makes the team. Players who felt like afterthoughts before training camp push their way into the conversation, and sometimes right onto the roster.
Take, for example, Receiver Lance Lenoir. Not only does he have some flash on offense, but his ability as a return specialist could make him hard to cut. While Tavon Austin will likely fill that role, Lenoir could win that job and a roster spot if he's clearly better than the veteran.
Or what about Running Back Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick just two years ago, who the Cowboys brought back when he hit free agency? Jackson's 4.4 speed and one-cut style suit this offense well, giving him more home run potential than Rod Smith or Bo Scarbrough. Perhaps the second time around goes better for the young RB.
Those are just a couple of the guys that you may already be considering, and there's potential for others to come out of total obscurity. Tight End David Wells may not have to do much to move up the depth chart with that position in such a state of flux. Or perhaps a young guard or tackle prospect pushes a veteran like Joe Looney or Marcus Martin off the team.
Sure, the odds are against these guys. But the door is never closed until cut day.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Graduating From Notre Dame
The 2019 season is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys, with OTA's and training camp getting ready to kickoff in the coming weeks/months.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith made the most of his offseason, going back to Notre Dame to finish out his college degree. Smith is set to graduate from Notre Dame this Saturday, and will walk to earn his degree in Film & Television.
Smith talked to DallasCowboys.com's David Helman about why it was so important for him to graduate and finish what he started at Notre Dame.
“When I left after my junior year, I promised my mom that I would go back and finish...Finishing my third year with the Cowboys, it was time.” - Jaylon Smith
2,025 @NotreDame undergraduates will receive degrees during Commencement Weekend. That contingent includes @thejaylonsmith Yes, the current @dallascowboys & former @NDFootball All-American linebacker, who took 21 credits this spring #4for40 #GraduatingChampions #CEV
Smith continues his leadership on and off the field, and we all send our congratulations to the Cowboys starting MIKE linebacker!
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