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 role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.
Yesterday we broke down the current, pre-training camp job security of the offensive players. Today we turn our attention to the defense.
Remember, these tiers aren't just about making the 53-man roster. It also has to do with the players' roles within the roster. Are you a sure starter, fighting for playing time, or just hoping to avoid the practice squad?
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
There is no debating these four players. Three of them are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and Jaylon Smith could've easily been right there with them. They are the new leaders of the defense and will be back in their featured roles in 2019.
None of these players will be challenged for their jobs. Even if Byron Jones doesn't get a long-term extension beyond this season, he will be back as the primary corner and playing for his free agency leverage next year.
These guys are easy. Let's move on.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, S Xavier Woods
The Cowboys hope that adding veteran Robert Quinn to Lawrence at defensive end will give them their most dangerous pair of pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The job is Quinn's to lose; only the decline of age can stop Robert from being a key player in the defense this year.
Maybe putting the Woods boys up here is a little optimistic, but it just seems like the arrow is very much pointed upwards on both Antwaun and Xavier at their positions. If they continue to build on last year, there's little reason to think they won't be starters this season.
Dallas has good reason to be invested in both of them. With Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins both likely playing their final seasons here, Antwaun Woods gives them a secured talent going forward. Ideally, Woods and Trysten Hill will be your starters in 2020.
The same goes for Xavier Woods at safety. Jeff Heath has an expiring contract and George Iloka has just a one-year deal. The Cowboys want Xavier to become a fixture that they can add to going forward.
Assuming all of these players play up to current expectation, they aren't budging.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
DE Taco Charlton, DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Tyrone Crawford, DT Maliek Collins, DT Trysten Hill, LB Sean Lee, LB Joe Thomas, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Anthony Brown, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Jeff Heath, S George Iloka
Most of the Cowboys defensive roster will be filled out from among this group. They should all make the team, but in what capacity? And how much will it matter, particularly on the defensive line, with the rotations that Rod Marinelli uses?
It probably seems odd to have former stalwarts like Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee listed here, but that's the new reality. I'm actually surprised both are still on the roster at this point, expecting at least one to be released for cap space this offseason. Both veterans will not be as featured as in the past, and I could even still see Crawford being released at final cuts.
Guys like Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are also fighting for playing time against younger options on the defensive line. Will Dorance Armstrong and Trysten Hill push for snaps, and consequently push the older players into lesser roles?
How will things shake out in the secondary? Will Jourdan Lewis be able to find a larger role after being buried behind the top three corners last year? Will Anthony Brown or Chidobe Awuzie be the number-two CB? And at safety, who emerges as the second starter between veterans Jeff Heath and George Iloka?
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
DE Kerry Hyder, DE Joe Jackson, DT Christian Covington, DT Daniel Ross, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Chris Covington, CB Michael Jackson, CB Donovan Olumba, S Kavon Frazier, S Darian Thompson, S Donovan Wilson
We've used up 19 of our 25-26 roster spots already. That means only 6-7 of these 11 players will make the team.
Dallas took a flier on Kerry Hyder as a rehab project, and the veteran DE is already impressing in the offseason practices. That could make it impossible for rookie Joe Jackson to make the team, getting crunched by the numbers.
Veteran Christian Covington feels like a solid pickup at DT, but what if he struggles to convert to the 4-3 scheme? A guy like Daniel Ross could be ready to steal the spot out from under him.
At cornerback, are rookie Michael Jackson and second-year prospect Donovan Olumba fighting for the same roster spot? What if Dallas doesn't even keep five corner, like they did last year, and leave both guys out in the cold?
The competition is really heating up at safety. Kavon Frazier's in the last year of his rookie deal and may not be able to fight off Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick, or rookie Donovan Wilson. Any one of these three could emerge.
None of these players listed here are guaranteed a roster spot. Even the newly drafted players will have to fight their way on, thanks to the strong talent acquisition the Cowboys have had in recent years.
Tier 5 - Longshots
Considering the potential casualties from the Bubble Players, any of this last group making the roster is going to defy expectations. Even 7th-round pick Jalen Jelks will have a hard time making it, and may have to convert to linebacker to have a chance at competing.
Despite his intriguing 6'4" frame, CB Chris Westry will need to be truly exceptional to push past Michael Jackson or Donovan Olumba. Even if Dallas keeps six corners, he may be stuck as the seventh guy and headed for the practice squad.
It will inevitably happen that reports come from training camp of one of these guys, or some other longshot, making plays and creating a sudden surge of attention. You'll see them start popping up on 53-man roster projections while we anxiously await watching them in the preseason games.
Then maybe nothing will happen, and we'll forget about them all over again. Or maybe they do have some big games, but ultimately are among the final cuts despite all of the hype.
In the nearly two decades now that I've been really analyzing the Cowboys' offseasons, I can't remember a year where there seemed to be less opportunity for a dark horse to make the team. That's unfortunate them, but a great problem for Dallas' perceived roster strength.
We'll find out soon enough how it all unfolds.
REPORT: Cowboys WR Michael Gallup Out 2-4 Weeks After Knee Surgery
Two games into a seeming breakout season, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Michael Gallup will now be out for the next 2-4 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He suffered the injury late into the Cowboys' victory over the Washington Redskins yesterday.
An MRI revealed the extent of the injury today. There were hopes that Gallup had only suffered a contusion, but unfortunately he will be out at least a couple of games after requiring this minor knee procedure.
Gallup is the team leader in catches (13) and receiving yards (226) after the first two weeks of the 2019 season.
Sources: #Cowboys promising WR Michael Gallup is having arthroscopic surgery to trim his meniscus, knocking him out 2-4 weeks. No structural damage besides the meniscus tear, so the return should be quick.
The Cowboys still have Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb as a strong starting duo. They also hope to get Tavon Austin back this week after he was inactive in Washington with concussion issues.
Gallup's absence could be big for Devin Smith, who had a 51-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins and should see more work in the coming weeks. It also may prompt Dallas to keep prospect Cedrick Wilson, just called up from the practice squad a week ago, on the 53-man roster a while longer.
Despite this depth, Michael Gallup will still be missed for however long he's out. Hopefully he can return on the quick side of the projection and keep his 2019 momentum going.
Robert Quinn Returns; How Will Cowboys Make Room on Roster?
Defensive End Robert Quinn, who the Cowboys traded for during the offseason, will make his Dallas debut this week after serving a two-game suspension to start 2019. To add Quinn to the 53 for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys will need to make some kind of move to create a roster spot.
The question now is how Dallas makes that room. Who winds up leaving the team this week to create that spot for Quinn?
Ideally, the Cowboys will be able to find a trade partner for the disgruntled Taco Charlton. The former 1st-Round pick has been targeted for a while now, and trade rumors have intensified after Taco's been inactive for the first two games of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the goal of moving Charlton before Quinn comes back is something the rest of the NFL is also aware of. If a team does have interest, why trade for Taco now when you can potentially just claim him off waivers in a few more days? The Cowboys are the ones with the deadline.
Trading Taco, or releasing him if a trade doesn't materialize in the next few days, is the most logical solution here. It not only get Charlton out of Dallas and fresh start somewhere else, but it all takes place within the defensive end position. One DE out to make room for another; makes sense, right?
But let's say that the Cowboys aren't ready to just lose Charlton for nothing, or aren't satisfied with the trade offers they get. Could they elect to hang on to Taco and create that roster spot some other way?
If that's the case then the move will likely come at another position on the roster. Dallas isn't going to part with any other young prospects at DE like Dorance Armstrong or Joe Jackson. They also may have just lost DT Antwaun Woods for a while with a knee sprain coming out of the Redskins game, so the Cowboys won't like losing any additional defensive line depth right now.
The easiest move would be cutting Cedrick Wilson, who was just added last week off the practice squad. Dallas called Wilson up for punt return duties while Tavon Austin recovers from a concussion.
Assuming Austin is able to come back this week, Wilson's release is the simplest way to create a roster spot. It buys Dallas time and leverage in handling the Taco Charlton situation and doesn't force their hand.
One x-factor here is how Michael Gallup's knee is doing after yesterday's game. If there's any thought that Gallup might need a week off, especially with the hapless Miami Dolphins on the schedule, perhaps Dallas wants to keep Wilson for one more week for WR depth.
I think the Cowboys would be fine going with just four receivers in Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, and Devin Smith if they have to. But if there is a reason that they want to hang on to Cedrick for this week, that would mean looking elsewhere for a roster spot.
Another option could be on the offensive line, where Dallas is currently heavy with ten total linemen and two guys who've been inactive in both regular season games. Backups Adam Redmond and Brandon Knight haven't suited up against New York or Washington, so there is a certain level of expendability there.
Dallas went long on OL depth this year due to concerns about Zack Martin's back and the 2020 free agency of Joe Looney and Xaver Su'a-Filo. They didn't want to risk losing either Redmond or Knight from the practice squad.
But with the season now well underway, the Cowboys may feel more confident in being able to move one of those prospects and slip under most teams' radars.
A final area to consider for a roster move is safety. With Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson both returning from preseason ankle injuries, Dallas now has five total safeties in addition to five cornerbacks.
The Cowboys have have always intended to keep this many total defensive backs, but it's more than they usually have in previous seasons. The general feeling at final cuts was that Kavon Frazier kept his job due to the injuries to Thompson and Wilson, and his time on the roster might be short-lived after they got healthy.
Frazier is a strong special teams player but hasn't ever broken through on defense, and his rookie deal expires at the end of this season. Assuming that Donovan Wilson is able to fill the void on kickoff and punt coverage, Kavon becomes another expendable player this week.
Again, the ideal move will be to find a new home for Taco Charlton and make the easy swap within the defensive end position. Robert Quinn comes in, boosts the first-team talent, and increases the depth via ripple effect.
But as we just illustrated, the Cowboys have other options beyond dumping their former 1st-Round pick. They could find a roster spot at receiver, safety, or on the offensive line and then keep looking for Taco trade partners for the next several weeks.
Time will tell, and ultimately the player lost is probably someone who wouldn't have been active this week or most weeks to come. Just don't assume it's going to be Taco Charlton; there are still plenty of ways this could go.
However it shakes out, we're just glad to finally see Robert Quinn out there and hopefully improving the Cowboys' pass rush.
The Brady Report: Cowboys Offense Dominant Despite Slow Start
The Dallas Cowboys followed up their dominant performance last week with yet another blowout divisional win on Sunday, defeating the Washington Redskins 31-21.
While the Cowboys controlled the game for much of the last three quarters, they actually got off to a slow start in Washington. Once again they fell behind to a lesser team 7-0 early, before scoring on nearly every possession to finish off the game.
Let's get into my game notes from the Cowboys' week two win.
- We have to start these game notes by talking about Dak Prescott. The Cowboys franchise quarterback was incredible for the second straight week to open this season. Despite the early interception, Prescott continued to look poised and calm in the pocket, allowing him to deliver a dime to Devin Smith for the team's first touchdown. Prescott was picking apart the Redskins secondary during the final three quarters to the tune of 269 yards and three touchdowns. Plus, he was very effective as a runner, including his dynamic 42 yard run on third down and one with the game still tied. If Dak is going to play like this, the Cowboys can beat anyone.
- Ezekiel Elliott looked a lot more comfortable Sunday than he did against the Giants. Not only were his raw numbers better, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown, he was back to his ways of falling forward and avoiding the first tackler. He still didn't really explode the way we all know he can, which means opposing defenses should be scared when considering what the Cowboys offense's full potential could be.
- Which receiver didn't ball out Sunday? Michael Gallup seems to be developing an awesome rapport with Prescott, Amari Cooper continues to prove he's a legit WR1, Randall Cobb was once again effective on swing passes and in the slot, and even Devin Smith had himself a monster game. If Devin Smith is going to be the speed deep threat he was against Washington, look out.
- Ok, now that I've congratulated the majority of the offense, let's talk about the one guy who I'm sure would've liked to have a better day. Left guard Connor Williams. The second year guard was solid overall Sunday, but was abused by Daron Payne from time to time. Most notably, Payne went right through Williams both to force Prescott's interception and on the only sack of the game. Williams has to be better going forward, because he is the clear weak link across this dynamic offensive line right now. Luckily, as a whole, this line has been very good through two games.
- Defensively, things could've gone better for the Cowboys. While a lot of the production through the air came through garbage time, Terry McLaurin was still too effective down the field. Chris Thompson was also getting too much YAC against these defenders. Anthony Brown had a rough day in the slot, missing multiple tackles and not being too great in coverage either. Jourdan Lewis, however, did have himself a good game in limited snaps. Both he and Byron Jones made impressive open field tackles on third downs.
- The Cowboys run defense stepped up from a week ago. The tackling of their front seven overall improved as the game went on, and they held Adrian Peterson to just 25 yards on the ground. Part of this was because of how quickly the Cowboys got to their 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but they were solid nonetheless.
- Dallas' pass rush will benefit greatly from Robert Quinn's return next week against Miami. DeMarcus Lawrence created a couple big pressures on Sunday, but Quinn's presence should help free him up a bit to create more of a consistent pass rush.
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