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 Cowboys’ roster 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 injured reserve 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 COVID-19 protocol and don’t count against the roster limit: WR CeeDee Lamb, G Connor Williams, DT Carlos Watkins, and S Damontae Kazee. 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!
Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert
The battle between Gilbert and Cooper Rush 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 Dak Prescott’s health. But with the new abilities to protect and pull guys from the practice squad, 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. Rico Dowdle would’ve made it as RB3 given his special teams 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 Fullback 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 offense suffered without a true lead blocker last year, and we know that Mike McCarthy 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 rookie (RIP Skyler Green) and Dallas has Gallup, Wilson, and Brown all hitting free agency 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 injury 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 preseason but he’s here to dirty work as a blocker and on special teams.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Ty Nsekhe
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 Josh Ball 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.
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 center. After a nice game against Jacksonville, Matt Farniok 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 DeMarcus Lawrence and Tarell Basham. 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
IR – Neville Gallimore, PUP – Trysten Hill
One of the toughest guys for me to leave off the roster is Justin Hamilton 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.
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 Jaylon Smith isn’t on the roster this year.
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 Deante Burton 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.
Damontae Kazee, Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker
Almost a complete overhaul at safety 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’ punter 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.