The starters for the Dallas Cowboys are unlikely to see any playing time in the fourth and final preseason game, which means the 2017 season is nearly upon us. I thought it would be a great time to share with all of you how I would shape the Cowboys final 53-man roster, but that doesn't necessarily mean the coaching staff will do the same.
There are numerous suspensions and possible suspensions that need to be taken into account, which makes predicting the 53-man roster all the more difficult. Since some of the players haven't been officially suspended, and may not, I decided to add them to the roster. But, things can change in a hurry.
Continue to reading below to see my prediction for the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster. Please feel free to express what you would do differently, because I know some of you will certainly disagree with me.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
For me, this is an easy decision to make. I'm not sure the Cowboys coaching staff will make the same decision to carry just two QBs on the active roster for the 2017 season, but that's the way I'm going.
Dak Prescott is the unquestionable leader of this team now and will likely be even better than he was last year. I decided to go with Cooper Rush as the QB2, because he has without a doubt looked better than Kellen Moore.
Rush would unlikely make it through waivers if cut, but the same can't be said about Moore. I don't see any team interested in signing Moore and once he makes it through waivers, the Cowboys can re-sign him to their practice squad. This is the best case scenario for everyone involved.
Running Back (4)
Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith
Ezekiel Elliott of course still has a chance to start the 2017 season, but with his availability up in the air, I'm keeping McFadden, Morris, and Rod Smith as the RBs. I think the Cowboys can survive with out Elliott for a few games, but hopefully #21 is somehow available to suit up for the entire season.
McFadden will likely carry the heavier workload, but Morris looks to be running with a renewed energy and burst. I imagine the coaching staff will ride the hot hand. Rod Smith on the other hand will be a core special-teams player and emergency backup. He likely won't see very many touches on offense.
Keith Smith has proven to be a valuable asset not only at fullback, but on special teams as well. It looks as if he could have an expanded role in 2017 and be utilized more in the passing game, maybe even get a carrier or two here and there.
Wide Receiver (6)
Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
It will be interesting to see the if Dallas Cowboys go with 5 or 6 WRs on the roster, but if it was up to me I'm going a little deep here. I believe there are only four who are guaranteed a roster spot right now, largely due to the fact they are really the only ones who have played in the preseason.
Ryan Switzer has yet to suit up in the preseason, but he is likely guaranteed a roster spot as well due to his role as a punt/kick returner and the fact he filled in earlier while Cole Beasley nursed a hamstring injury. Noah Brown is the real wildcard, but since I don't think he will make it through waivers, I will give him the sixth WR spot.
Brown has been used on several special-teams units in the preseason and has done an exceptional job of blocking down in the box. He has also shown up in the passing game, but still needs time to fine-tune his skill set.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
It may come to a shock to you, but I don't think the Dallas Cowboys carry more than three TEs on the active roster to start the 2017 season. Jason Witten, James Hanna, and Geoff Swaim have locked down the spots in my opinion, which means they have more depth there than they did a season ago.
You may be wondering what they do with Rico Gathers? I personally believe he will start the season on injured reserve. He has been dealing with a concussion for the past several weeks and placing him on IR could be the best for all parties involved. It would give him more time to get over his concussion/develop and the Cowboys could then add him to the active roster later in the year as one is their designated players to return from IR if needed.
Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green
The only sure thing at the offensive guard position for the Dallas Cowboys is that Zack Martin will be starting on the right side. The left side is still completely up in the air, but as things stand right now, Jonathan Cooper is probably the favorite to start the 2017 season.
Chaz Green still can't manage to stay healthy and it's unfortunate because he is probably the better option at LG. Green simply can't be relied upon, but he will likely be the backup LG and possibly the swing tackle as well. Hopefully he can overcome the injury bug, because the talent is there.
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Emmett Cleary
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will start as the bookends on the Cowboys offensive line to start the season, but there is a little concern about both players. Collins is still developing as a RT, but has performed well so far. Smith on the other hand has already had back issues this off-season and that caused him to miss a few games last season.
I decided to keep Emmett Cleary on the active roster mostly due to the fact that he may have to be the swing tackle this season because Chaz Green can't stay healthy. Cleary will likely be inactive most weeks as long as Green can stay healthy, but provides insurance if injuries were to occur. The Cowboys of course may look for options outside of the organization, but who knows if they could find an upgrade.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
You may not know this, but Travis Frederick has an Ironman streak going for himself. He has started every possible game since being drafted by the Cowboys and hopefully that streak continues. I believe he is the anchor for this talented offensive line, as well as their heart and soul.
Joe Looney is the backup G/C, but a player no one wants to see on the field at all in 2017. That means everybody remains healthy and he is just on the roster as an insurance policy. That's nothing against Looney, because he is an adequate fill in. We would just prefer if he remains a backup.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Lenny Jones
The Dallas Cowboys may have gotten younger and more athletic at defensive end, but I'm just not sure if they upgraded the position during the off-season yet. It will be interesting to see who gets the start against the New York Giants in Week 1, but one thing is for sure, they will all get their chance to prove themselves.
There are concerns at the position though. Lawrence and Tapper both have had back issues and Crawford has troubled remaining healthy as well. Charlton has the size and athleticism to be a factor, but rookie pass rushers seldom excel in their first year in the NFL.
I decided to go a little longer at this position and keep Lenny Jones on the active roster to start the season because of suspensions. But, I'm sure the Cowboys will be paying close attention to roster cuts to try to find an upgrade.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea, Lewis Neal
The only surprise here to make the final 53-man roster might be Lewis Neal. Collins, Thornton, and Paea are all proven veterans and should get plenty of playing time throughout the season. I expect Collins to have a big 2017 season and I have high hopes for Paea.
Neal is a little undersized, but has proven to be disruptive so far in preseason and practices. Right now, I think he is the favorite to back up Collins at the 3-technique, but his time on the roster could be short-lived until David Irving returns from his suspension.
This is another position the Cowboys could be looking for an upgrade once roster cuts happen, but they could decide to stick with Lewis Neal until suspensions are completed. That would put Irving and Tyrone Crawford back in the mix at DT.
Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Mark Nzeocha, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, (player TBD)
The linebacker position has suddenly become a real concern for the Dallas Cowboys. Right now, Sean Lee is the only LB the Cowboys can rely on to start the 2017 season. Damien Wilson is facing a possible suspension and Justin Durant hasn't really practiced or played so far this off-season. But, it's Anthony Hitchens injury that has really hampered the LB position.
I don't think Jaylon Smith is ready to open up the season at MLB, but the Cowboys might not have a choice. Durant might get the nod to start at MLB, but that also depends on Wilson's availability. I expect the Cowboys to really look hard at LB options outside the organization, hopefully finding a proven veteran who might be a salary cap casualty. Of course, a trade is another option to find a starting caliber LB as well.
Nolan Carroll, Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Marquez White
As things stand right now, Nolan Carroll has yet to be suspended by the NFL, which means he could be available to start the 2017 season. I think Carroll, Scandrick, and Brown will be the starters when the season gets underway, which shouldn't be all that surprising considering their rookie CBs have been battling injuries.
Awuzie looked capable enough to become a starter earlier in the preseason, but the Cowboys have been cautious with him to ensure he is ready when the season gets underway. Lewis on the other hand hasn't really been able to get on the field much, so the coaching staff will have to wait and see what kind of role he will have. White on the other hand has had moments in preseason and practices. He is worth keeping around if nothing more than an insurance policy.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
Like it or not, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be the starting safeties for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. Byron Jones is vastly underrated, but I expect him to have a breakout season this year. I also believe Jeff Heath is underrated, but I think he will prove that he is just as capable of starting as the departed Barry Church.
Although Xavier Woods was bitten by the injury bug, I think he more than proved he is capable of contributing in several ways as a rookie. He can play both safety positions or in the slot. His versatility could prove to be invaluable throughout the season. Frazier on the other hand will more than likely be a core special-teams player, but has the capability of filling in as a strong safety.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
There is nothing surprising about these three players. All three could be chiseled in stone. This is probably the only position that the Cowboys coaching staff are completely comfortable with.
Do you agree or disagree with this 2017 Cowboys roster prediction?
Where Does Dak Prescott Rank Among NFL Quarterbacks?
The quarterback position is one of the most difficult positions to evaluate in the NFL. As hard as it can be for a quarterback to understand and execute an offense against a defense that is trying to keep them off balance, it can be equally difficult to try and determine where each quarterback ranks compared to his peers.
Last week, The Sporting News attempted to do just that with their 2019 Quarterback Rankings. It's a pretty good list, and I highly recommend checking it out.
This was the criteria for how Vinnie Iyer,
"These rankings are based on how each QB performed last season and the upside of how each might perform in 2019. No matter how many Super Bowl rings or MVP awards a QB has won, or the number of efficient passing seasons he has posted in the past, history is a small part of the equation. We thought about where each QB ended up last season in terms of effectiveness, production and durability, and then we thought even more about how his talent and offensive support set him up for success (or lack thereof) this season."
Vinnie Iyer - The Sporting News
Dak Prescott came in at number 14 on the list, three spots behind NFC East counterpart Carson Wentz.
Here's what NFL Analyst Vinnie Iyer had to say:
"Prescott dazzled as a rookie in 2016 and slumped as a sophomore in 2017. Last season, he was closer to his rookie form in a year that largely landed between both extremes. Prescott got hot in the second half of the season once he clicked with new No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper, creating a trickle-down effect that should continue with more legitimate overall weapons in 2019."
Vinnie Iyer - The Sporting News
While these lists are rather subjective and it can be a difficult task, I think Vinnie's pretty close on where Dak Prescott sits in the NFL at this point in his career.
It's hard to argue with his top five. Each could have an argument for being the best quarterback in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes just won the NFL MVP, Tom Brady has won all the Super Bowls, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers put up ridiculous numbers year in and year out, and Russell Wilson was just made the highest paid player in NFL history.
While I think Dak probably sits in the 9-15 range, here are the five quarterbacks ranked ahead or Prescott.
9. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
10. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
13. DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans
I feel there's an argument to be made that Prescott is a few spots to low.
As an avid Oklahoma Sooners homer, I find it a bit presumptuous to have Baker Mayfield as one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL. Mostly because he's only played 14 games at this point in his NFL career. Mayfield had a tremendous rookie season and has given Cleveland Browns fans hope that the franchise is finally headed in the right direction. As much as I love Baker Mayfield and think he's going to be a great NFL quarterback, it's hard for me to put him in the top 10 at this point in his career.
Ben Roethlisberger is easily a top 10 quarterback. He has skins on the wall and over the last several seasons has been a prolific passer in the NFL. Some of the games he plays in the offseason talking about retirement aren't great, but it's hard to argue he hasn't had a borderline Hall of Fame career.
The most difficult argument I think comes when you compare Dak Prescott and DeShaun Watson. The two seem to be on similar career trajectories at this point.
Watson has a better passer rating, a slightly better completion percentage and has more total touchdowns per game than Dak Prescott for his career. If Watson had played as many games as Dak Prescott to this point, at his current touchdown rate, he'd have 108 total touchdowns. 23 more than Dak Prescott.
The two that I have the biggest issue with on this list are the two he gets compared to the most because they were taken first and second overall in the same draft that Dak Prescott was taken in the fourth round; Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
Dak Prescott's thrown for near as many touchdowns as Carson Wentz, who leads the three, but if you consider how many touchdowns Prescott's rushed for in his career, he sits 13 total touchdowns ahead of Wentz and 16 total touchdowns more than Jared Goff. Dak Prescott has a better career passer rating than both of those quarterbacks and is right there in yards per attempt with both guys.
Dak Prescott can claim more team success than Carson Wentz. One could argue that Jared Goff didn't play his best on the way to representing the NFC in the most recent Super Bowl. Dak Prescott has started every game of his NFL career while Carson Wentz has missed eight games due to season-ending injuries each of the last two seasons. Durability is a huge issue for Wentz at this point. I'd rather have the guy who you know will be on the field.
If I were going to rerank Dak Prescott with the five quarterbacks ranked directly ahead of him, I'd go:
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
10. DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans
11. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
12. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
13. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
14. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Of course, this is my attempt to be as unbiased as possible and would completely understand if you wanted to rank them differently. There's no perfect way to rank players in the NFL and I applaud the Sporting News guys for giving it this effort. I can see arguments for Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield, and DeShaun Watson ahead of Dak Prescott, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.
Dak Prescott is a top 12 quarterback in the NFL and an ascending player in this league.
If you were going to rank the six quarterbacks listed above, how would you rank them? Let us know in the comment section.
5 Worst Contracts for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have done great work the last few years of shedding bad contracts and getting out of "salary cap hell." However, even this relative fiscal paradise of 2019 isn't perfect. Today, we're going to look at the five worst deals that Dallas still has on the books.
These contracts are only active as of now, in the middle of May, and could be gone by the time we gets to Week One. We'll discuss those possibilities as we go through each player.
What you'll realize fairly quickly with this exercise is that it's a stretch to even say the Cowboys have five "bad" contracts on the team at this point. That's how well the front office has done in learning from the past and getting things to a much more manageable and equitable point throughout the roster.
Maybe that changes in a few years. Some of the big contracts on our All-Pro offensive linemen may lose value as those players start to decline with age and/or health issues. Or perhaps the upcoming new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will turn out to be retrospective mistakes.
But those are conversations and articles for future offseason. For here and now, 2019, here are the five worst contracts on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
DL Tyrone Crawford - $10.1 million cap hit
I know I've been picking on Crawford a lot lately, but that's what happens when you have easily the worst contract on the roster. Tyrone has the second-highest cap hit on the defense and sixth overall on the entire team, and that's an obvious imbalance compared to where he ranks among the Cowboys' top players.
This situation isn't Crawford's fault. Dallas thought they were making a shrewd move by giving Tyrone a sizable contract back in 2015. They expected him to blossom as the 3-tech DT under Rod Marinelli.
That boom never happened, and as a result Crawford's contract ultimately became a bust. He's been valuable as a leader and having DE/DT flex, but he's never been a top player on defense even when he was the highest paid.
I wrote more extensively on what Tyrone's future with the Cowboys might be, especially with the June-1st date looming for potential roster cuts. His job security has taken some big hits lately with the drafting of Trysten Hill and now legal issues, which could result in a minor suspension for Crawford in 2019.
We'll see if Tyrone Crawford makes it to the 2019 roster. He still has value with his versatility and generally solid play, but that overpaying contract could ultimately be his demise.
WR Allen Hurns - $6.25 million cap hit
The only other contract which is truly "bad" for the Cowboys belongs to veteran receiver Allen Hurns. It gives him the 11th-highest cap hit on the roster, and this for a guy who projects to be no higher than fourth on the WR depth chart.
The week before free agency opened in March, Dallas picked up an option to keep Hurns in 2019. It's always felt like an insurance move; Hurns can be released with just $1.25 million in dead money at any point this offseason.
Dallas is likely hanging onto Hurns until they get through the preseason without any injuries to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. It'd be nice to have Allen if something happens to them; he has plenty of starting experience and can be an every-down receiver. Guys like Randall Cobb or Tavon Austin aren't built that way, while Noah Brown isn't experienced enough.
Assuming everyone gets to September intact then I expect Hurns will be released. It's hard to imagine Dallas carrying him as a backup with that cap hit, and especially if they have younger guys like Brown or Cedrick Wilson that they want to utilize.
So no, Hurns' contract shouldn't cost the Cowboys for long. If he stays then it's because he's needed for a starting role, in which case $6 million is reasonable. But if he's going to spend most of the year on the sideline, Dallas has an easy out that I expect they'll utilize soon.
LB Sean Lee - $6 million cap hit
This is another one where how bad the contract is could shift depending on how much the player is needed in 2019. Even with a negotiated pay cut, Sean Lee's still making more than most of the starting defense.
Paying Lee this much to play SAM and then backup Smith and Vander Esch on the nickel is a bit high, even for what he brings as a mentor and coach on the field. But Dallas was willing to overpay for the intangibles, plus the hope that Lee could still play at a high level if called upon.
The biggest concern with Sean Lee, as it's ever been, is his health. He can still ball but has reverted to injury-prone issues in recent seasons. Perhaps a lesser role with fewer snaps will help in that area.
Again, I don't even know if I'd call this a "bad" deal. We have yet to see how much Dallas plans to rotate Lee with their young studs, and he brings things to the LB room that a guy like Damien Wilson never could.
The major liability here is if Lee gets hurt, in which case Dallas basically has a solid chunk of cap space tied up in an assistant coach.
TE Jason Witten - $4.25 million cap hit
You can apply some similar logic to Witten's deal from what we just discussed with Sean Lee. If he contributes on the field then it's not a bad deal. But if age and time away from the game have caused Jason's skills to slip too far, then this is a lot of money to pay for a backup TE.
Like Lee, Witten will hopefully offer a great deal as a mentor for Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and any other young tight ends. He can't make them any more talented, but he can at least help maximize whatever potential they have.
But again, without actual on-field contributions, that mean you're spending valuable salary cap space on coaching. That money could've gone to someone like Jared Cook for a more simple and immediate boost to your offensive firepower.
As we said at the outset, most of these contracts are only conditionally bad. If Witten's year off allowed him to heal and rest and come back with renewed vigor in 2019, then it could wind up being a great deal for the Cowboys.
Father Time may ultimately be undefeated, but he doesn't win every round. Hopefully Jason can fight him off for at least one more year.
DE Taco Charlton - $2.74 million cap hit
Taco's disappointing start to his NFL career has made his rookie contact, which is usually team-friendly, a bit of dead weight on the Cowboys' books. Unless Charlton take a big step forward this year, the Cowboys are stuck paying him like a significant contributor for the next two seasons.
Dallas would get no cap relief cutting Taco this year; his cap hit stays roughly the same if cut after June 1st. It would also push another $1.35 million in dead money onto 2020. Therefore, unless the situation between team and player has become truly toxic, or a trade partner emerges, the Cowboys should hang on to their 2017 first-round pick at least thru 2019.
Ideally, Charlton will emerge this year as a more consistent and motivated roleplayer. There's little chance that he'll start with Robert Quinn coming in, but Charlton could still claim the role of a major rotation piece if he's had some more development.
If that happens, Taco's deal will become far less worrisome. That's a modest salary for a solid backup at most positions, and especially at defensive end.
If Charlton doesn't improve, though, Dallas will finally be able to get some savings if they cut his deal in 2020. In that scenario, he probably isn't around long enough to make this list a year from now.
~ ~ ~
What makes a contract bad or good is subjective. You might look at those huge cap hits on deals for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence or Zack Martin and think they're the biggest problems. But if you're getting All-Pro play at fair market value, you really can't criticize those salary numbers.
It will be interesting to see what happens the next few years with guys like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, whose health issues could change how we perceive their contracts. Both are still young enough to play at a high level, but could we adding one of them to this list in the next year or two?
A few years from now, we make look back on 2019 as an anomaly. Having to reach to find enough contracts to make this list is a great problem to have.
I just hope it stays that way.
Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority
Despite adding Tony Pollard and Mike Weber through the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys still don't have a clear-cut running back to back up Ezekiel Elliott this season. I like the upside of both of these rookies, but I think it would be wise on the Cowboys part to bring in a more established player to become their RB2 this season.
Enter Jay Ajayi, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins running back.
I really believe Running Back Jay Ajayi is exactly the kind of RB2 the Dallas Cowboys need, and currently don't have, to backup Ezekiel Elliott this year. He's an established veteran with a proven track record, but has unfortunately struggled with injuries throughout his career. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward kind of move Dallas likes to make when signing free agents.
We all know the Cowboys like to sign free agents on their own terms. That usually means they are cost-effective players that won't impact the compensatory pick formula. Surprisingly, Jay Ajayi fits into both of those categories right now.
Signing Ajayi shouldn't break the bank for the Dallas Cowboys. They should be able to sign him on a one-year prove it deal because of his recent injury history. He sustained a torn ACL early in the season last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but is supposed to be ready by the time the 2019 season kicks off.
I don't know what you or the Dallas Cowboys think about this, but I think all of this makes just too much sense for it not to happen. The Cowboys would be getting a starting caliber RB to backup Zeke and Ajayi would be receiving a great opportunity to potentially resurrect his career.
Now, I know Ajayi is probably holding out for a starting job for some NFL team, but I just don't see that happening for him. Coming to Dallas and forming an excellent 1-2 punch with Ezekiel Elliott is an opportunity he shouldn't pass up, especially with Zeke's recent off the field incident where he was handcuffed/detained (not arrested) at a musical festival in Las Vegas.
The NFL has shown in the past they are willing to throw the book at Zeke, despite little to no evidence supporting their case. This most recent incident allows the league to do just that once again, meaning No. 21 could be looking at a possible suspension.
With that in mind, the Cowboys backup RB situation is even more concerning. I don't think I would completely trust Tony Pollard or Mike Weber to handle the workload in Zeke's potential absence. Jay Ajayi on the other hand is a different story. I don't think there would be much of a dip in production with him in a lineup.
Like I said earlier though, I don't know where the Dallas Cowboys stand in regards to Jay Ajayi, but this really seems like a win-win situation for everybody involved. If I were the one making the decisions, I would get on the phone with Ajayi's representatives immediately to try to bring him aboard.
Do you like the idea of Jay Ajayi as Ezekiel Elliott's backup running back?
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