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Dallas Cowboys 2021 Roster Projection: Final Edition

We’re now less than 48 hours away from the NFL’s deadline for final cuts in 2021. The news could start rolling in at any moment, so it’s high time for our final projection of the Dallas this season.

Before we get to the list there are a few wrinkles to discuss. Dallas will have some guys starting the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list and others being moved to immediately after final cuts. We will address those as we go.

The guys heading to IR in a few days could create a couple of oddities in the cuts. For them to be able to return during the year, they have to be carried on the official roster for 24 hours and can then be moved. That means a player may get cut now with the understanding that they’ll brought back immediately after the injured player gets moved.

Also, four players are currently in the protocol and don’t count against the roster limit: WR , G , DT , and S . But right now all of them are expected back by Week One, so we’re not factoring those roster exemptions in this projection. All it means is four other players will hang around for a few extra days for practice.

You got all that? I think I do.  Let’s proceed!

Quarterbacks (2)

Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert

The battle between Gilbert and ends with Garrett barely hanging on to the backup job. But right now he feels more like the lesser of evils than a truly worthy QB2, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cowboys make a move to upgrade that spot sometime this week.

Before 2020 Dallas probably keeps three quarterbacks with the concerns for ’s health. But with the new abilities to protect and pull guys from the , I think they will stick Rush there and make him their 54th player on game days.

And yes, it’s bye-bye to Ben DiNucci.

Running Backs (3)

Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Nick Ralston (FB)

Dallas only had Elliott and Pollard on the 2019 roster and I think they go back to that this year. would’ve made it as RB3 given his value but I don’t think either JaQuan Hardy or Brenden Knox have done enough to merit a roster spot.

Only going with the two halfbacks makes it easier to keep Nick Ralston, who has shined on special teams and in run blocking. Maybe this is my old Garrett/Linehan-influenced brain talking but I think the suffered without a true lead blocker last year, and we know that loved his fullbacks in Green Bay.

Wide Receivers (6)

Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup
Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko

No surprises here, right? The one question mark is Fehoko but it’s not much of one. It takes a lot for 4th-Round pick to not make the team as a (RIP Skyler Green) and Dallas has Gallup, Wilson, and Brown all hitting next year. Even if he’s not dressing, Simi will be carried on the roster to protect the asset for 2022.

The only ways that any of the other WR prospects were going to make the squad was through injuries or claiming the kick or punt return jobs. Neither of those things happened.

Tight Ends (3)

Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Jeremy Sprinkle

IR – Sean McKeon

McKeon’s changed things as he was expected to make the roster. He’s the first of our injured players who the team will carry for a day and then place on IR so that he can potentially return during the season.

The rest of this group is a no-brainer. Sprinkle might’ve lost his spot to a healthy McKeon but Dallas may have just kept four at that point, perhaps costing Nick Ralston the job I gave him at fullback. Sprinkle’s had a quiet but he’s here to dirty work as a blocker and on special teams.

Offensive Tackles (4)

Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Ty Nsekhe
Terence Steele

IR – Josh Ball

Dallas might’ve only kept their one swing tackle but La’el Collins’ exit from practice a few days ago was a reminder of how quickly things can still go sideways. After last year’s issues I think the Cowboys will keep at least two OT backups at all times.

For right now they will probably be Nsekhe and Steele. Once he’s recovered from his ankle injury, rookie might claim Steele’s spot and come off injured reserve.

This another spot where a player from another team’s cuts, particularly a veteran OT to replace Nsekhe as swing tackle, could definitely happen.

Guards/Centers (5)

Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin
Connor McGovern, Matt Farniok

One thing that was clearly established this preseason is that Dallas will be in trouble if they lose Biadasz at . After a nice game against Jacksonville, may have done enough to hang around and get more developmental work as a backup center.

Defensive Ends (6)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham
Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, Ron’Dell Carter

PUP – Chauncey Golston

I think Dallas will go long here to start the year given the injury concerns with and . Both may be ready for Week One but we know how fast can things change on just a single play.

That will give Anae and Carter some extra time on the roster. Both may have been out if everyone was healthy Golston’s starting on PUP and neither Lawrence or Basham have had much work in August.

Whether it’s Golston, Ball, McKeon, or other guys on these various lists, who gets cut when they return is impossible to predict. It will all depend on who’s healthy and who isn’t once that roster spot is needed.

Defensive Tackles (4)

Osa Odighizuwa, Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins
Quinton Bohanna

IR – Neville Gallimore, PUP – Trysten Hill

One of the toughest guys for me to leave off the roster is and I’m fully prepared for this to be a spot where I guessed wrong. But Hamilton, at age 28 and with six years already in the NFL, seems like a guy who can be easily placed on the practice squad and called up from there if needed.

Linebackers (6)

Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, Leighton Vander Esch
Jabril Cox, Jaylon Smith, Luke Gifford

The only real question here is if Dallas will even keep six linebackers, but I feel like they must given Leighton’s chronic issues and the major injuries that Neal had from 2018-2019. That creates a roster spot for Gifford, who’s been strong throughout camp and preseason and really shined yesterday against Jacksonville.

Sorry to some of you, but a trade is the only way isn’t on the roster this year.

Cornerbacks (6)

Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
Maurice Canady, Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright

Another easy group to predict and especially after Reggie Robinson went to IR and failed to impress this August. Even though they struggled in preseason and probably won’t play much this year, Joseph and Wright were Day 2 draft picks and aren’t going anywhere.

Canady is the guy who made the biggest perception leap from the start of camp until now. He was an afterthought following his 2020 opt-out but was reportedly one of the best corners over the last several weeks. Don’t be shocked if he’s starting before long.

Safeties (4)

Damontae Kazee, Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker
Jayron Kearse

Almost a complete overhaul at other than Wilson, which is deserved after last year’s problems. Rookie Israel Mukuamu was a tough cut but he’s not better than these veterans. If he makes it he’ll be carried at the bottom of the roster and probably not dress much.

Hooker and Kearse are veterans who won’t be subject to waivers and could be released today or tomorrow but brought back after McKeon, Ball, and Gallimore are placed on IR.

Special Teams (4)

K Greg Zuerlein, P Bryan Anger, LS Jake McQuaide
ST C.J. Goodwin

There’s talk right now that Dallas may dump Anger for Rams’ Johnny Hekker if Los Angeles cuts the four-time Pro Bowler. John Fassel was his coach in LA and, as we saw with Zuerlein, he loves his guys.

I put Goodwin here and not at his official position of cornerback because special teams is the only reason he’s on the roster. He’s a true specialist in every sense but has been so good that you’re willing to go short somewhere else to keep him.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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6 Comments

  1. They are not preparing for Jaylon Smiths departure. They are planning on Leighton getting injured . Leighton is a stud that can’t stay healthy. They will keep them both around this year. If Leighton gets hurt he will walk this off season. If he stays healthy who knows. But, it is a breath of fresh air that the organization learned from the “Sean Lee trials” if they can’t stay healthy don’t count on them. Even though I Leighton is great sometimes you just gotta cut a player loose.

  2. I agree with most of these moves, the only thing I don’t agree with is keeping Jaron Kearse over Israel Mukuamu!! I think Mukuamu has been making more plays through the preseason than Kearse has been!! Not to mention the big difference in versatility…. Jaron Kearse plays nothing but box safety, while Mukuamu has played everywhere from slot corner to box safety to free safety!! And we all know how much Dan Quinn loves his versatile guys!!
    And another thing I just heard from 105.3 is that Bradley Anae and Brandon Knight are on the trading block!! I don’t mind if we try to trade knight, but Anae is too good to let go!! They just haven’t given him much of a chance to show what he can do!! If it were me I’d try to trade Armstrong before trying to trade Anae!! But that’s just my opinion!!

  3. Turner is better than Fehoko right now however Fehoko has a higher upside. You need to keep some developmental guys from roster spots 47-53 who won’t dress unless you have injuries but who you would lose to another team if cut. That’s why you keep guys like Fehoko, Bradlee and Maumaku 3rd team guys that you really don’t expect to help you this season but who could be ready to contribute in a year or two. For someone like Turner to play we would have to lose 2 of our top 3 WRs to injury so someone like him won’t really help either. If we have that many injuries then we would be signing more WRs anyway and maybe even trading for a decent one.

    I agree that we shouldn’t keep CJ just for special teams. We could keep Ralston on the roster for ST/FB/HB/TE and we will have guys like Kearse, Canada, Gifford and Jabril Cox who will give us strong special teams at and who can also contribute on defense.

  4. I like your premise, but I don’t agree with all of the moves you mentioned. Malik Turner has played pretty good in training camp and preseason, but he doesn’t have the potential that Simi Fehoko has. Yes he has more experience in the league and he also does good things on special teams, but he’s never gonna see game day with the Cowboys. I think they keep Simi based on his contract, potential, and the fact that Gallup, Cedric Wilson, and Noah Brown are all free agents next year. All things equal or close to it, the team will keep the draft pick in Fehoko. I’m not saying I disagree with your thinking, but they will give the rookie the roster spot if they keep 6 WR’s.

    Goodwin may not offer much on defense, but he makes his mark on special teams, and really we don’t have many, (or any) other players on the roster that brings it on special teams the way he does. He is the leader in that area and it’s not even close competition with the next guys up. You’re absolutely correct that it would be nice to have a player that can give more value to the team other than special teams, but the league now is designed for specialist role players and he fits that to a T with his special teams work. John Fassel, and previous ST coordinators we have had recently have all vouched for Goodwin as a leader on ST. And frankly, I don’t see Thompson as equivalent on ST, or defense. He got beat time after time last year on defense. I don’t think any of us wanna see that again this year.

    I’m not sure we see Trysten Hill be sent packing anytime soon. He still is rehabbing and if he stays on the PUP he doesn’t affect our roster spots…(53) man roster cutdown. So that keeps him on the team at least until he has recovered and returned from injury. Sadly, also, Jayson Smith isn’t going anywhere either. Not with his contract and the affinity that the Jones’ have for him.
    Is he overpaid? Probably at this juncture, but he has been available to suit up, and the last 2 years…he has led the team in tackles. I know that isn’t a ringing endorsement, but he has played decent at times. I also think they will use him in certain packages, maybe with Parsons as the only other linebacker in those situational rushing plays when they attack the edges with LB blitzes. His problem has been the injury he sustained in the bowl game against Ohio State. It’s a minor miracle he is still able to play with the nerve damage he has dealt with since. He’s a gamer though and you need good team first guys on the team. Plus he is a leader in that LB room.

    I wouldn’t trade Gallup, unless it’s for a top notch CB or Off. Tackle. And I don’t think any team is gonna trade their CB1 for a good, but not great #2 WR.

    If it were me I’d be looking for a young up and coming DT that can rush the passer and hold his own against the run. Maybe a Kevin Martin type player that Detroit might be looking to deal for WR or LB help.

    Hopefully, we both are wrong and the players the team chooses to keep will get us ring #6 this season.

    Stay Blessed bro!!!

  5. Malik Turner outplayed Fehoki by a long shot. Fehoki has not “earned” the job. Getting Turner on the team also reduces a dependency of Goodwin who is taking up a precious spot IMO. I’m not a big Thompson fan, but I’d rather have him for the 1st few weeks to ensure Kazee and Hooker hold up physically … and would even prefer Mukuamu over Thompson, but again if it means letting Goodwin go, I’d settle for Thompson. The more useful combination of Turner and Thompson would easily make up for Goodwin on special teams.

    Also wouldn’t cry over Trysten Hill getting walking papers. He shouldn’t be above getting cut strictly due to draft pedigree.

    Possible trade concepts?
    Trysten Hill and Gallup to DET for a Rd-2 pick?
    Hill and Jaylon Smith for a pick or a swing tackle upgrade?

    The glimpses we’ve been given of this team to-date this year do not inspire a lot of confidence. If you list the top-3 concerns coming into camp, all 3 have been unanswered. Solid LB rotation and throwing a bunch of youth at the secondary is about all this team has achieved.

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