The three weeks of "voluntary" OTAs have come to a close for the Dallas Cowboys, and this week starts the mandatory portion of the off-season practice program with minicamps getting started out at The Star. As the OTAs progressed, several players made cases to have their names etched on Jason Garrett's 53-Man Roster when they open up the 2018 NFL Regular Season.
With what we know now, here's what the 53-Man Roster could look like week one.
- Dak Prescott
- Cooper Rush
- Mike White
Dak Prescott is the starter. There is no competition and no debate. He's a good player that has a chance to be a great player. He's in need of a bounce-back start to the season after the way his 2017 season finished, but he's a hard worker and is capable of improving his game.
There was a time when I thought the backup quarterback situation would be a competition between Cooper Rush and Mike White, and it still might be. After what I've read about the two from OTAs, I'm ready to state that the backup quarterback position to Dak Prescott is Cooper Rush's to lose.
Now, I don't have the benefit of watching every practice, but from everything I've read -- mostly from Bryan Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com -- White has been behind on throws while Rush has been making good throws throughout OTAs.
Rush has the edge of experience, even if it is only one year.
Running Back (5)
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Rod Smith
- Jamize Olawale (FB)
- Tavon Austin (Web Back)
- Bo Scarbrough
The guys I've listed above are locks to make the team at this point. The only question with Austin is how do they see him. As a WR/RB hybrid, he will line up in both spots. He's either the fourth running back or the seventh wide receiver.
Jamize Olawale is a great fullback piece. He's averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per reception for his career while scoring seven touchdowns over the last five years. You may not think much of those numbers, but for a fullback, it's pretty good. Like Tavon Austin, he's a chess piece that the offensive staff can get creative with.
There's a lot that could be said about Ezekiel Elliott as a player. One nugget I found the other day was pretty incredible:
Only 2 running backs averaged more yards per game through their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6. Eric Dickerson: 122.3 Clinton Portis: 106.9 #CowboysNation
Make sure you read my 2018 stat projection for Ezekiel Elliott for more interesting notes on Elliott.
The final running back spot on the team will come down to Bo Scarbrough, the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2018, and Darius Jackson, the sixth-round pick from 2016.
What gives Scarbrough the edge is his style of play. It's different from anything else we have on the team. He's a straight-line and downhill runner who will find a role as a short-yardage back from time to time. Darius Jackson reminds me a lot of Rod Smith; capable at a lot of things, but not great at any one thing. Bo has great physicality and once he gets going, he's tough to stop.
Imagine dealing with Ezekiel Elliott for 20 carries and then in comes Scarbrough for a series in the fourth quarter.
These five give the team a very well-rounded group of runners that will keep defenses off-balance. Should be a lot of fun to watch them behind this offensive line.
Wide Receiver (6)
The odd man out here, Deonte Thompson, could very well still be on the roster if the legal situation with Terrance Williams turns into an NFL suspension.
With a suspension, the Dallas Cowboys could release him without any cap penalties for the remainder of his contract, which is set to run through 2020. A suspension for Williams could also mean Deonte Thompson gets a roster spot until Williams returns, should the team decide to keep him anyway. It's a bit of an albatross that I'm sure the Cowboys would like some flexibility with, but if there's no suspension, Williams will be on the roster.
Thompson seems very similar to the Nolan Carroll signing a year ago - veteran insurance in case the rookies aren't ready to step into a full-time role.
Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson have both been making noise throughout the Rookie Minicamp and OTAs, and because of their route-running ability, they will be a part of the new-look Dallas Cowboys WR group.
The team loves Noah Brown's blocking ability and his ability to play special teams. They can use him as a small tight end in formations that motion him in-line like they tried to do with Vince Mayle a few years ago.
Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley are the veterans of the group and fully personify what a "Dak-friendly" receiver looks like. Quick route runners with the ability to line up in several spots on the field.
Tight End (3)
- Dalton Schultz
- Geoff Swaim
- Rico Gathers
The toughest decision for me came down to five running backs (including Tavon Austin) or four tight ends, and ultimately I decided that four tight ends was too much.
They have four guys who are very unproven NFL assets at tight end. Geoff Swaim has the most experience and Rico Gathers brings the most intrigue. Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin offer a lot of potential, but their ceilings may not be as high as Gathers if he can put together consistent performances as a blocker.
Jarwin would be a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't make the team out of camp, but as you know there are always injuries in training camp, so there's still a good chance he makes the team.
Hopefully one of these guys steps up and asserts themselves as TE1 before training camp is completed.
Offensive Line (8)
- Tyron Smith
- Connor Williams
- Travis Frederick
- Zack Martin
- La'el Collins
- Cameron Fleming
- Joe Looney
- Marcus Martin
We know who the starters are before we even hit minicamp. This group of offensive linemen might be the most impressive group we've ever had with a Star on the side of their helmet. They've created a monster that is going to give Dak the protection that failed him in 2017 and blow open holes for Ezekiel Elliott.
Most importantly, the deal with Left Guard Zack Martin is done. He will be with the Dallas Cowboys through 2024 and will begin working with the team on the field during this week's minicamp. Kudos to the front office for getting this done and not letting it linger into training camp.
Joe Looney has been and will continue to be the backup center to Travis Frederick. He can also play some guard in a pinch.
While I think the team is going to give Chaz Green a chance to keep a job, I think the need to go long at WR, TE, and defensive line will prohibit the team from carrying nine guys on the 53-man roster. Though they won't be able to keep a lot of bodies for the offensive line, the depth has gotten better with the signing of Cameron Fleming as the swing tackle.
Defensive Line (10)
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- David Irving
- Maliek Collins
- Tyron Crawford
- Taco Charlton
- Datone Jones
- Jihad Ward
- Dorance Armstrong
- Randy Gregory
- Kony Ealy
Maliek Collins' injury and David Irving's family issues have me concerned that they may have to prepare to start the season without either of those guys.
Irving has stated he'll be ready for training camp when they go to Oxnard, California in July, but the stuff that he's dealing with can take time to sort out. As he stated, it's important to take care of the off-field stuff first so that he can focus on football.
Collins should be ready for week one, according to several reports, but with his history of foot issues now covering each of his first three seasons in the NFL, it's also possible he's not ready when the Cowboys travel to face the Carolina Panthers.
Jihad Ward and Datone Jones are going to get quite the opportunity on the interior to earn playing time with the absences of Collins and Irving. Going up against the All-Universe offensive line that the Cowboys have should only help them to improve.
At the moment, I'm going to say that Randy Gregory gets reinstated and is put on the 53-man roster out of training camp. They'll have to go long along the defensive line.
The odd man out at the moment looks like Charles Tapper, who hasn't really found his stride in the NFL due to injury. The last spot along the defensive line will come down to Tapper and Ealy. Ealy gets the nod at the moment because of his ability to move inside to rush from the 3-tech defensive tackle spot.
We know how this team loves position flexibility.
- Sean Lee
- Jaylon Smith
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Damien Wilson
- Joe Thomas
- Justin March-Lillard
Justin March-Lillard is the name that has been making the most noise so far in the OTAs, aside from Jaylon Smith. With Sean Lee being held out for precautionary reasons and Leighton Vander Esch spraining an ankle, March-Lillard took advantage of a tremendous opportunity to shine with the first-team defense in the last couple weeks of OTAs.
Damien Wilson has been a forgotten man this offseason with the spotlight on Jaylon's recovery and Vander Esch's draft selection. Though he looks like he's going to be moved to more of a reserve role, it's a great sign for the depth of the linebacking group. He's been a good run player for the Cowboys.
Last year they were really thin at the position and now they have four guys who can start for them and play significant snaps.
Joe Thomas is a nice depth piece who will contribute on special teams while being able to play the MIKE and WILL linebacker positions.
- Byron Jones
- Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown
- Jourdan Lewis
- Marquez White
The surprise of OTAs so far has been the usage of Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis.
We'd been hearing all offseason that Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie figured to be the outside cornerbacks for the Dallas Cowboys. We also figured that meant Jourdan Lewis would be the first cornerback off the bench to play in nickel situations. So far, that hasn't been the case as Brown has been playing with the first team defense more regularly.
In 2016, when Brown filled in for Orlando Scandrick in the slot, he was very good. Perhaps he's found his home there again in 2018.
We know that Lewis doesn't fit the long and tall profile that Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers, but I'd argue it's only a matter of time until we see Lewis make his move up the depth chart.
This is a young, talented, and deep cornerback group. The top four guys have each started games in the NFL.
Marquez White, who was seen as a project when drafted in 2017, does fit the profile for Richard and will be the fifth cornerback on the squad this year. He's very athletic and profiles as an outside corner.
- Jeff Heath
- Xavier Woods
- Kavon Frazier
- Tyree Robinson
Xavier Woods is probably the most intriguing player on the defense after Jaylon Smith.
The Dallas Cowboys felt so good about what they had in him that they didn't pull the trigger on draft day to trade for All-Pro Safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks. I wouldn't completely rule out a trade however, if Earl continues his hold-out into training camp and the preseason.
I really like Woods' ability to cover and play the run. In his rookie season he was really good as a slot cornerback for the team early on when they were dealing with injuries. His cover ability allows the defense a ton of flexibility when lining up. They can stay in their base 4-3 on early downs more frequently, even when opposing offenses want to go with 11-personnel.
Kavon Frazier really came on at the end of the season as a run-stuffing "box safety." He helped bring an edge to the defense that struggled for much of the year against the run.
Barring any unforeseen deals for a certain safety from a certain team in the Northwest US, Tyree Robinson is my fourth safety. Robinson is a center-fielder type of safety. While Woods also can do that, Robinson will have a shot to earn that spot with his natural instincts to play the position.
From Bryan Broaddus' notes during the rookie minicamp:
"Of the undrafted rookie free agents, Tyree Robinson appears to be the one guy that’s a true free safety. If there was something that stood out about him today was his ball skills. There were a couple of different snaps where he did a nice job of reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make interceptions."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Special Teams (3)
- Dan Bailey
- Chris Jones
- L.P. Ladouceur
Dan Bailey needs to rebound from a slump he experienced in the second half of the season. His field goal percentage of 75% was the worst of his career. He missed some games in the middle of the season due to injury, but had been perfect until the second Giants game when he missed two out of three attempts.
No need to panic yet, but if he gets off to a slow start in the preseason games or the regular season, the Cowboys will have to think about making a change.
Chris Jones remains one of the best punters in the NFL. Not only does he kick it well, but his physical presence helps as a safety valve for the team. What also makes him great is his ability to convert on fakes. It's a weapon that has been quite useful.
L.P. Ladouceur will be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper for as long as he wants to be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper. He's that good.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Obviously, a lot could change between now and September when the regular season opens up, but here's my best guess at the 53-man roster as we sit in June.
We're now 44 days till the first day of practice in training camp, 58 days from the first preseason game, and 89 days from the start of the regular season.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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