The NFL preseason is now behind us, and the business of the next two days will be the forming of 53-man rosters before Saturday's deadline. That being the case, it's time for our final Dallas Cowboys roster projection of 2019.
You know the drill, so let's no waste any time. You can reference the previous edition of my roster projections here.
Ready? Yes, good, on we go!
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
According to reports, Rush distanced himself from Mike White fairly quickly during training camp. The preseason has only solidified that view; Cooper is your backup QB. In fact, I'm confident he will be the only reserve passer on the 2019 roster.
Despite being a 5th-round pick last year, White just hasn't looked good enough. He can deliver a solid throw when circumstances are perfect, but playing in the NFL is all about what you can do under duress.
Beyond just not making the roster this year, I think Dallas will move on from Mike and make Taryn Christion their practice squad QB. An undrafted rookie who only joined the team in early August, Christion looked more confident than White did last night against Tampa Bay. He also has significant athleticism for the position.
If I'm right, it will be a quick and unfortunate end to Mike White's Cowboys career. But we've seen 5th-round picks not make the team even in their rookie years (more on that to come); all bets are off by Year 2.
Running Back (4)
Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris, Jordan Chunn
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Chunn, Removed Ezekiel Elliott
Based on everything we've heard up to this point, it looks unlikely that Zeke will end his contract holdout and rejoin the team for the season opener. You can look elsewhere on Inside The Star for plenty more coverage on that topic.
We're going with that assumption today and the likelihood that rookie Tony Pollard will be the starting tailback, with veteran Alfred Morris providing an experienced, reliable backup option. If Zeke were to come back soon, I expect Morris would be released as he doesn't provide any special teams value.
It is that same reason that I have Jordan Chunn as RB3 over Darius Jackson or Mike Weber. Assuming his rib injury from last night isn't severe, Chunn has done enough on both offense and special teams to earn a roster spot. If the injury is a problem, I expect Weber to make the team over Jackson.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson
Changes: Added Smith, Removed Noah Brown
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the preseason has been the ascension of Devin Smith. The former 2nd-round pick is looking great and has leapfrogged his competition, securing a roster spot as the best WR prospect of the preseason.
It appears Noah Brown will start the year on the PUP list and that opens up a spot for Cedrick Wilson, who would've made last year's team if not for a preseason injury. He was the next-best performer behind Smith these last few weeks, plus has value as a backup return man on special teams.
Speaking of kick and punt returns, it will be interesting to see how Dallas utilizes Tavon Austin in those roles in 2019. We assume he will handle punts given his proven talent there, but will he also be used on kickoffs? As long as Tony Pollard is the starter at RB, someone else will have to take on that role.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
I had a hard time leaving Marcus Lucas off the roster after some strong play in the preseason. In fact, he's one of the players I'm most prepared to be wrong about. But I just don't think the Cowboys have ever intended to keep four tight ends given their needs throughout the entire roster.
Assuming Jarwin and Schultz have healed up and are ready for the regular season, Dallas should be set with their top three. They also have FB Jamize Olawale who can play as a smallish TE if needed, plus Noah Brown if and when he comes back to duty.
As for the practice squad, Lucas would be great to put on there but isn't eligible after his various stops throughout the league. That leaves Codey McElroy as the current candidate unless Dallas signs someone off the street.
Offensive Line (8)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Xavier Su'a-Filo
Changes: Added Su'a-Filo, Removed Connor McGovern
Rookie Connor McGovern is likely headed to injured reserve after a recent setback with his pectoral injury. Nothing against McGovern, but that's almost a blessing in disguise for the Cowboys this year with their roster management.
If healthy, McGovern was going to have to be carried on the 53-man roster despite not being ready to actually contribute on the field. Dallas can now stash him on IR and go with just their top eight linemen, saving a roster spot for another position.
This is especially good news for Xavier Su'a-Filo, who was one deserving player that might've lost his job. But now that McGovern is likely out of the picture, Dallas can hang on to Xavier and bolster their interior line depth. If another team makes a trade offer for Su'a-Filo in the coming days, the Cowboys will likely keep Adam Redmond as their last reserve lineman.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson
Changes: Removed Jalen Jelks
I am fully prepared to be wrong here. I could see Crawford being cut or traded for salary cap reasons, or could see Dallas trading Taco after his big game against the Texans. They may not see the need to keep all six of these players with Robert Quinn coming off suspension in Week 3, or the potential of Randy Gregory returning sometime during the year.
Injuries may settle the matter before any other moves have to be made. If someone goes down in Week 2, there's your roster spot for Quinn's return. But if that doesn't happen, it will be very interesting to see how Dallas makes room for the veteran.
As for the other names, Armstrong, Hyder, and Jackson have all been standout performers since training camp began. They should be locks as current contributors, with Dorance and Joe hopefully being core players in the years to come.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
Christian Covington, Daniel Wise
Changes: Added Wise
I try not to overreact to preseason games, especially the fourth one, but Daniel Wise was that good last night and throughout the offseason. He has position flex like Tyrone Crawford and could actually end up being why the Cowboys let the veteran go.
With Collins and Woods as the sure starters and Hill guaranteed to make it in his rookie year, Covington is the only other question mark. I think he makes it as the only other DT with the size to be a run stuffer as the 1-tech, plus being better than Hill at this point as a backup option.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March, Justin Phillips
Not much to say here. The top five have been sure things for a while; even Justin March given his valuable experience and special teams work. It all really came down to who would be the 6th guy, or 7th if they went long.
Here's how I see this shaking out. Dallas will place Chris Covington on IR immediately with his shoulder issue. They will carry Luke Gifford on the 53 through final cuts, so that he's eligible to return during the year, then put him on IR on Monday. At that point, assuming he cleared waives, Justin Phillips will be signed as the sixth linebacker.
If Phillips gets scooped up by another NFL team, I expect Dallas will either re-sign Nate Hall (waived earlier today) as the sixth man or bring in somebody from other teams' cuts. Or they may go with Covington if they think he can be game ready for Week 1. Another option that I've floated before is going with just five true linebackers and then using Jalen Jelks in a hybrid role.
Ideally, it will be Phillips now and then Gifford after eight weeks. But there will be a few moving parts to make that happen.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, C.J. Goodwin, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Michael Jackson
Like Luke Gifford at LB, I think rookie corner Michael Jackson is a guy Dallas would like to put on IR now but have the option to reactive sometime during the year. To do that, they may risk Donovan Olumba on the waiver wire and then swap them on Monday.
However, as we said earlier, being a 5th-round pick doesn't guarantee Jackson a roster spot. I could also see where Dallas simply can't risk losing Olumba and put the rookie on the practice squad.
Given his experience and special teams value, C.J. Goodwin is making this roster. He even played some safety last night; just too many ways he can be utilized and enough proven proficiency to let go of.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson,
It feels like only a matter of time before Donovan Wilson is starting alongside Xavier Woods. In fact, I would predict it happens after the bye week this year, if not sooner. But Dallas will still defer to Jeff Heath to begin the season.
The big surprise here from when we started this process is that veteran George Iloka will not make the team. He just hasn't delivered since being signed as a free agent, and Dallas can comfortably go with their younger options.
It's tough to say goodbye to Kavon Frazier, but Wilson takes on his role and Darian Thompson has more value with free/strong safety versatility as a backup. There just isn't enough reason to keep Kavon at this point, especially with his rookie deal expiring after the season.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Dallas could save a little cap space by swapping out Jones for Kasey Redfern at punter, but they would also lose their longtime holder on field goals and extra points. Given the shakiness of Brett Maher at kicker, I think they will ultimately keep Jones to stabilize the entire process and give Maher his best chance at success.