The Dallas Cowboys will be making a lot of decisions this week as they cut down the 2019 roster before Saturday’s deadline. But as they form their 53-man group for the upcoming season, they may also have an eye on their high number of free agents in 2020. How could this potential mass exodus of talent next year impact their roster decisions now?
Based on the players either guaranteed to or with a solid chance of making the 2019 roster, Dallas stands to have anywhere from 25-30 free agents in the following offseason. This is due to a mix of expiring contracts from veterans, the draft class of 2016, and players signed to one-year deals this past spring.
Here is a brief summary of the potential 2020 free agents:
Veterans: QB Cooper Rush, WR Amari Cooper, TE Blake Jarwin, OT La’el Collins, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, G/C Adam Redmond, DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, LB Sean Lee, LB Joe Thomas, CB Byron Jones, CB C.J. Goodwin, K Brett Maher
Class of 2016: QB Dak Prescott, DT Maliek Collins, CB Anthony Brown, CB Kavon Frazier, RB Darius Jackson
1-Year Contracts: RB Alfred Morris, WR Randall Cobb, WR Tavon Austin, TE Jason Witten, DE Kerry Hyder, DT Christian Covington, LB Justin March, S George Iloka, S Darian Thompson, LS L.P. Ladouceur
See what I mean?
True, not all of these 28 players will make the team this year. Dallas will likely be making cut-down decisions between Morris and Jackson at running back, Su’a-Filo and Redmond on offensive line, or Iloka and Thompson at safety, rather than keeping both.
Also, we fully expect players like Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Antwaun Woods to be re-signed before 2020 free agency begins. We hope the same for La’el Collins, Byron Jones, and Maliek Collins, but that will depend on salary cap space.
All that said, there is currently a major chunk of talent not under contract for 2020. So how might that impact the Cowboys’ roster decisions this week?
A great example is whether or not the Cowboys keep a third quarterback this year. They haven’t had just two passers on the roster since 2014, but Dallas may revert to that this season to save a roster spot somewhere else.
We can debate whether or not Dallas even wants to keep Mike White after his rough preseason. But even if they still have interest, they may value players at other positions far more.
Consider the defensive line. A player like rookie Joe Jackson might not make the squad if Dallas had a bunch of long-term players locked up ahead of him. But if there’s a mass exodus of talent in 2020, Jackson could wind up being a primary reserve in his sophomore season.
The same goes for cornerback. Anthony Brown’s likely exit in 2020 free agency, coupled with the possibility that Byron Jones isn’t re-signed, creates some concern. Rather than choosing between Donovan Olumba and rookie Michael Jackson and keeping only five CBs this year, Dallas has added incentive to keep both as security for next year.
Going long at these positions means going short somewhere else. We already mentioned quarterback as a possibility, but running back and offensive line are two other spots where the Cowboys could utilize their versatile talent and help their roster math.
Dallas could potentially just keep eight total offensive linemen. Cam Fleming, Joe Looney, and Connor McGovern have position flex as reserves, while Connor Williams and La’el Collins can also swap roles. They should be able to get through a game with just those guys and keep additional depth on the practice squad.
At running back, the Cowboys will already be struggling to find enough touches for both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. They could utilize fullback Jamize Olawale or receiver Tavon Austin as emergency running backs and then keep someone like Mike Weber or Jordan Chunn on the practice squad.
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A lot of these decisions will also come down to who the Cowboys believe they can get to and keep on the practice squad without fear of poaching from the rest of the NFL. Players like Joe Jackson or Donovan Olumba, who have stood out this preseason, may be on other teams’ radars far more than others.
But because of the contract situations for 2020, Dallas may be pushed to go long at certain positions more than they normally would. Someone like Olumba, who didn’t make the team last year, may be kept this season because of the changing dynamics at cornerback and the potential exits of his current superiors.
In just three more days, after final cuts, we’ll be able to see more clearly how the Cowboys are thinking as they build their 2019 roster.