The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 24th, just a few weeks away. Inspired by the NFL’s recent Top 100 list, I thought it would be interesting to try rank just the Cowboys players against one another. This should also give us a sense of who will make up the majority of the 53-man roster after final cuts.
The players are ranked based on a variety of factors. Overall talent and performance, legacy with the franchise, and the importance of their position (e.g. left tackle vs. guard/center) were all considered. I also looked at their projected role in 2017.
Today we move on to the players ranked #31-40. We'll see some key backups as well as players who may be contending for starting jobs.
40. Cedric Thornton, DT
The Cowboys gave Thornton a four-year, $17 million contract to join the team in last year's free agency. That kind of money tell you they expected him to have a significant role, likely starting, on the 2016 defense.
However, Dallas didn't know that Terrell McClain was finally going to have a healthy and productive season. They also didn't know that they'd be drafting Maliek Collins and that he'd turn out to be a third-round steal. Thornton fell to the bottom of the depth chart, but that had more to do with the talent in front of him than any failings on his part.
The 2017 situation isn't much different. Collins is going to be the focal point at DT and there's still Tyrone Crawford to consider. Dallas also signed veteran Stephen Paea, a former Rod Marinelli player in Chicago. Thornton will still make the team with no cap relief available from shedding his contract, but his role may not increase much from last year.
39. Joe Looney, OL
While much of the offensive line is being shaken up, Looney should be a stable presence and resume his role as backup center. If he gets a shot at the left guard starting job, "Jumbo Joe" could be competitive. He was used as a sixth blocker in limited packages last year.
The veteran's versatility as an interior line reserve will make him hard to cut. That's a good thing for Looney, because his contract makes it very easy. He is only guaranteed $50k of the $850k in 2017.
The backup center role is where Looney's real security comes in. Dallas may give Jonathan Cooper a look there, but Looney is trusted and experienced. His biggest concern will be younger center prospects like Ross Burbank or Ruben Carter emerging during camp.
38. Charles Tapper, DE
While Jaylon Smith is the debuting player everyone is most interested in, Tapper may not be too far behind. A fourth-round pick last year, Charles hopes to meet the high bar set by his classmates from the 2016 draft.
Tapper missed his rookie year due to a spine defect that was discovered during the offseason. He had corrective surgery and is reportedly good to go for 2017. After the contributions that Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown made on defense last year, it's no wonder that fans are anxious to see what Tapper can do.
Many feel Tapper played out of position at Oklahoma, not getting to rush the passer as much as his skills would suggest. He will have no such issue in Dallas; the Cowboys are going to be looking for him to get to the quarterback as much as he can. If Tapper can show up early during training camp, he could carve out a big role quickly.
37. Geoff Swaim, TE
Before the 2016 season began, Swaim had risen to the number-two spot on the depth chart after James Hanna's injury and Gavin Escobar's fall from grace. He showed a little spark on offense early, having a catch for over 20 yards in each of the first two games.
There should be open competition for that second TE spot now between Swaim, Hanna, and perhaps even Rico Gathers. Both Swaim and Hanna are known as solid blockers with some receiving ability, so it's hard to give one the nod over another right now.
Swaim is four years younger and would be much cheaper next year, so Dallas would love for him to win the job. They could release Hanna for close to $3 million cap relief in 2018.
36. Kellen Moore, QB
The Cowboys clearly trust Moore to be their backup quarterback, adding no real competition for him in free agency or the draft. Barring injury, he a virtual lock to be the second QB and will probably be the only reserve passer that Dallas keeps in on the 2017 roster.
Moore's football intellect has been praised more than once by Cowboys coaches and others throughout his career. That is a handy trait to have in the QB room, making him an asset to Dak Prescott and the coaches as they work out gameplans. It's clear that Scott Linehan values Moore's presence, having brought him over from Detroit and likely being a key reason he was re-signed this year.
On just a one-year contract, Moore's contributions will hopefully all be behind the scenes. He can earn new deal with Dallas by being a resource to the offense. If Kellen does have to play, hopefully time in the system will allow him to perform better than in 2015.
35. James Hanna, TE
In last year's free agency, Dallas gave Hanna a three-year deal worth close to $3 million per season. They clearly liked what he offered and he was expected to be Jason Witten's primary backup. However, a knee injury cost Hanna all of 2016.
As we just discussed with Geoff Swaim, Hanna will have competition for that job now. He and Swaim are arguably neck-and-neck and the younger guy might get the tiebreaker because of age and upside.
Where Hanna could outshine Swaim is in the passing attack. He has tremendous athleticism for his size and could be a dangerous new wrinkle. The big problem for Hanna has been staying healthy. though, and that could sink him quickly with Swaim and Rico Gathers right on his heels.
34. Keith Smith, FB
While not a full-time starter because of the various formations used, Keith Smith has emerged as a trusted lead blocker for the Cowboys rushing attack. He graded out as one of the league's top fullbacks in 2016.
Smith not only gives you a backfield blocker but also plays a key role on special teams. He can even serve as an emergency linebacker, having played that position from 2014-2015 and in college.
With Rod Smith returning to halfback, Keith should go unchallenged for the fullback spot this year. The only threat would be Dallas using tight ends in the backfield, which they've done in past seasons, but all signs point to Smith returning to help clear paths for Ezekiel Elliott.
33. Chaz Green, OL
If he's not the starting left guard than he'll likely be the swing tackle, making Green an important figure in the upcoming training camp. The former third-round pick needs a healthy season to keep himself in the team's long-term plans.
Green has missed most of his first two years with a foot injury in 2015 and a back injury last year. He had surgery last December and should be a full participant going forward. Chaz is expected fight with veteran Jonathan Cooper at left guard, but he has the versatility to play different spots on the line.
It's possible that Green could still compete at right tackle. If he has a great camp, Dallas might decide to cancel plans on moving La'el Collins there and feel good about starting Green on the outside. That might be the ideal scenario, allowing Collins to stay at guard where many feel he has elite potental.
32. Nolan Carroll, CB
Signed to a three-year, $10 million contract last March, Carroll was expected to be one of the team's top three corners in 2017. That was before the draft, though, where Dallas spent their second and third-round picks on Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Carroll's job security may have taken a very quick and unexpected hit. The addition of young talent, plus his DWI arrest last month, may have rendered Nolan expendable. He will likely suspended at least two games to start the season.
It is doubtful that Carroll will be released, but Dallas will have to get their young guys ready to play during the weeks that he'll be suspended. This could wind up in them keeping those spots on the depth chart, pushing Carroll down to the bottom.
Of course, it's too soon to know what the rookies will do. Carroll could easily return and be a primary piece in the secondary. The Cowboys certainly paid him enough to suggest that. How the veteran performs over Awuzie and Lewis will be one of the more interesting stories to follow during camp.
31. Darren McFadden, RB
Dallas re-signed McFadden last March, comfortable with him as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott. Even though he turns 30 in August, McFadden still showed the wheels last year to be effective and has a better running style for our scheme than Alfred Morris.
Where McFadden is especially good for Dallas is in his receiving and blocking skills, making him a perfect third-down back. He should be able to compliment Elliott well throughout the year and allow the Cowboys to get Zeke rest when needed.
That said, McFadden only got a one-year contract to come back. What's more, he only got $80k in guaranteed money. Dallas clearly has reservations about his age and injury history and are leaving their options open. The job is certainly McFadden's to lose, but the Cowboys are ready to have to change plans if needed.
Predicting Dallas Cowboys Roster Locks, Pre-Training Camp Edition
With the Dallas Cowboys training camp just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to draw attention to their current roster. From top to bottom, the Cowboys have one of the deepest rosters at their disposable heading into the 2019 season. But in order to get under the league mandated 53-man roster Dallas will have to release quite a few talented players.
With that in mind, I thought I'd take a shot at predicting which Dallas Cowboys players should be considered roster locks right now. I tried to narrow down to the players who I am the most confident in right now, not the ones who can eventually secure a roster spot at some point in training camp or preseason.
I should probably warn you right now… I tried to avoid any "pet cats", roster bubble guys, or players I would personally pound the table for. The players listed below are the ones I'm nearly 100% sure make the Dallas Cowboys final 2019 53-man roster.
Dallas Cowboys 35 Roster Locks
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||Tony Pollard|
|WR||Amari Cooper||Michael Gallup||Randall Cobb|
|OL||Tyron Smith||Connor Williams||Travis Frederick||Zack Martin||La'el Collins||Cameron Fleming||Connor McGovern|
|DE||DeMarcus Lawrence||Robert Quinn||Dorrance Armstrong||Tyrone Crawford|
|DT||Antwaun Woods||Maliek Collins||Tryston Hill|
|LB||Sean Lee||Jaylon Smith||Leighton Vander Esch||Joe Thomas|
|CB||Byron Jones||Chidobe Awuzie||Anthony Brown||Jourdan Lewis|
|S||Xavier Woods||Jeff Heath||George Iloka||Donovan Wilson|
|ST||Chris Jones||L.P. Ladouceur|
35 out of 53 may seem like a low number of Dallas Cowboys players who I believe have already locked up a roster spot, but with the depth this team has it's really not. There's no way of really knowing how many players the Cowboys will keep at each position, which makes predicting these roster locks that much more difficult. Regardless though, the 35 players listed above are the ones I am the most confident about.
Biggest Surprise Roster Locks
If you look over the 35 players who I believe have locked up a roster spot already, there's not a whole lot of surprises. I think the only player I would consider a surprise would be Safety Donovan Wilson. As a rookie, and a sixth-round pick at that, Wilson seems like a longshot to even make the final 53-man roster, but not if you look at the current the depth at the position. I believe all he has to do is beat out Kavon Frazier, which shouldn't be that difficult.
The only other player that could possibly be a surprise is Cornerback Jourdan Lewis. The only reason I mention him is because the Cowboys "supposedly" put him on the trade block last year. I think they've learned though he is someone who needs more playing time, which is why I have him listed above.
Biggest Surprise Roster Snubs
You may have noticed a few names who I snubbed as roster locks for the Dallas Cowboys, but which ones were the biggest surprises?
The first player you may have noticed missing was WR/RB Tavon Austin. He's a dynamic player when he can get the ball in space, especially in the return game, but in no way do I view him as a roster lock this year. Tony Pollard, the Cowboys third-round pick this year, is a similar player that could make Austin expendable.
The next player you may have noticed missing is C/OG Joe Looney. He filled in nicely for Travis Frederick last year and quite possibly saved the Cowboys 2018 season. His versatility to play along the OL could be important, but rookie C/OG Connor McGovern could fill that role as well. Despite that though, Looney still has a good chance to make the final 53-man roster.
The last player I think who might be a surprise is Defensive End Taco Charlton. He is entering the ever important Year 3 with the Dallas Cowboys, but despite being a former first-round pick he's no sure bet that to make the roster. The Cowboys have some talented depth at DE who could push Charlton off the roster.
Who would be your Dallas Cowboys roster locks ahead of training camp?
Should Cowboys Consider Bringing Back Alex Tanney as Backup QB?
If the Dallas Cowboys aren't happy about their quarterback depth by the end of preseason, they should be looking to add someone from other teams' roster cuts. One player that could become available is a former Cowboy, Alex Tanney, and he may be one of the best options they'll have.
Tanney is currently with the New York Giants and served as Eli Manning's backup last year. He's floated around the NFL since going undrafted in 2012, being part of eight different teams.
Alex's tenure in Dallas came in 2013 when the Cowboys signed him just before training camp. Tanney flashed his potential during the preseason but it wasn't enough to get him on the 53-man roster. Dallas kept just two QBs that year, Tony Romo and Kyle Orton, and signed Tanney to their practice squad.
In November of that season, the Cleveland Browns poached Alex and signed him to their roster. Then came a series of stops with other teams' practice squad before finally landing with the Tennessee Titans, where he got his first and only playing time in a regular season game.
In 2015, Tanney finished the Titans meaningless regular-season finale. He completed 10-of-14 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
After spending last year with the Giants as the backup QB but never having to play, Tanney re-signed with New York for a two year deal this past March. But that was before the Giants spent their first-round pick on QB Daniel Jones
New York has kept three quarterbacks on the roster the last two years, but only kept two in 2016. With a clear top-two of Manning and Jones, and Daniel obviously their QB of the future, could they decide to let their other passers go at final cuts?
By only giving Tanney $75,000 in guaranteed money on his new contract, the Giants certainly left themselves the option of cutting him.
Alex Tanney now has seven years of NFL experience with multiple teams. He'll have just spent a full year and a second offseason with one of the Cowboys' division rivals, perhaps offering some insights into Pat Shurmur's system.
Ideally, the Cowboys will be content at quarterback if Cooper Rush or Mike White can earn their confidence over the next two months. But after reported struggles from both during mini-camps and OTAs, there is reason for concern.
This will all be moot, of course, if the Giants decide to keep Alex as a their third quarterback. But there is reason to think he could hit the open market, and if so he may be one of the few decent options that Dallas has to try and improve their QB depth.
In the end, Alex Tanney may not be a better option than Rush or White. But if the Cowboys find themselves desperate by September, he should at least be worth a second look.
Saints WR Michael Thomas Will Drive Up Price for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper
Since he became part of the Dallas Cowboys, Amari Cooper has proved himself worthy of a long-term contract extension. The offense saw a complete turnaround once the former Oakland Raider arrived, picking up way more first downs and moving the ball down the field. With a solid #1 wide receiver, Dak Prescott's game improved and with it, the rest of the offensive performance. At this point, most of Cowboys Nation agrees on how important Amari Cooper is for the Cowboys' future.
At only 25 years old, Cooper has an entire career ahead of him. He's young, yet experienced. The front office is aiming to make Dak Prescott the team's quarterback in the long-term and it only makes sense to give him such a strong weapon in the passing game.
However, if the Cowboys are to keep Cooper, they are to pay a price tag. An expensive one. And the more time they take to sign him, the more they'll have to pay. Of course, this is true in just about every position in the NFL. But when it comes to WR, there's a bit more urgency.
Both Julio Jones and Michael Thomas, two of the best in the game, are seeking long-term extensions. Now granted, these two players may be in different scenarios given their ages (Julio is 30, Michael is 26) and the fact that Jones still has two remaining years on his current contract. Even still, both are in the discussion for being the top receiver in the NFL. In other words, they could be asking to become the highest paid receivers in the league.
In fact, Michael Thomas is reportedly asking for $22M per year. To put it in perspective, Odell Beckham's contract with the Browns, which made him the top paid receiver, averages $18M annually. Thomas is absolutely great, but he's asking for too much money. Whether he'll get it or not remains to be seen.
As much as we love Amari Cooper, he isn't in the conversation for being the best wide receiver in the NFL like Thomas is. Despite that, he'll surely land among the highest-paid. For Cooper, it seems like the floor for his deal is Adam Thielen's contract with the Minnesota Vikings, which averages $16.2M per year. He isn't getting paid anything less than that.
The ceiling though, could drastically change. He's not going to become the top paid in the league, but he could be very close. The thing is, that number could change quickly. At the moment, Odell Beckham sits atop the NFL pass-catchers averaging 18 million. We can only guess, but that could lead to Cooper getting paid around $17M per year.
But if Michael Thomas or Julio Jones get their deals done before, that price could drastically go up. If Thomas gets what he wants (and it's a big if), the ceiling for Cooper's annual salary would have become $4M more expensive.
Hopefully, the Dallas Cowboys get a deal done quickly. Amari Cooper is a great player, and in less than a season he clicked with Dak Prescott, who's also waiting for payday. Right now, we can only be glad neither is threatening to hold out and both are excited for training camp.
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