I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what kind of team the Cowboys would be fielding if the season started today. They have 63 players under contract right now, which is ten more than they’ll have in Week One. How set are they at some positions, and how much more work is needed at others?
Yesterday we projected what the Cowboys offense would look like using just the players currently signed. We used 24 roster spots, leaving another 24 for the defense (remember, three spots go to kicker, punter, and long snapper). Here’s the projection:
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Ryan Russell
We’re going to assume that the Raiders won’t match the contract Dallas just signed Mayowa to. I’m also leaving Randy Gregory off for now as he will be suspended for the first four weeks.
They must be confident in Mayowa if the rumored three-year, $8 million terms of that deal are true. That’s about what they were paying Jeremy Mincey, a proven veteran, for the last few years. He at least gives Dallas a rotation piece to go along with the unproven Russell.
Irving was getting more work inside last year but could play end if needed. We could also see linebacker Kyle Wilber used as a pass rusher in an emergency. Obviously, Dallas would rather add at least one more significant player here. They could spend as high as their first-round pick on a defensive end given the uncertainty around Gregory.
Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Terrell McClain, Chris Whaley
Crawford and Thornton are sure to start next year regardless of what else happens this offseason. The question marks come with the backups. Ideally, Dallas will add a few more ends so that David Irving can remain at tackle where he was excelling last season.
McClain and Whaley are similar in that Dallas has been carrying them for two years now through injury problems. McClain has shown the potential to be an impactful player when healthy but just hasn’t stayed available. Whaley is a younger prospect who Dallas has been working to get healthy in the hopes of future contributions. If just one of them can be a factor in 2016, that would be a win for the Cowboys.
Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha
Dallas could go into next year with this group and feel fairly good about it. With Lee and McClain returning to their roles there should be open competition for the Sam linebacker role between the remaining players. The rest all provide versatility and value.
The Cowboys could still add a linebacker in the draft. McClain’s on just a one-year deal and we know how shaky Lee’s health is. If the talent is there then Dallas may take someone to replace McClain next year and bolster their depth now.
Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Terrance Mitchell, Deji Olatoye
Until the Cowboys actually do release Carr we have to consider him part of next year’s squad. That move likely won’t come until after the draft and they’ve added someone like Jalen Ramsey or at least a player they expect to contribute immediately.
If Scandrick’s healthy and ready to go Week One then this is a solid but unexciting group. The issues at defensive end create uncertainty here as we’ve seen how Carr and Claiborne can struggle when quarterbacks have time to throw. However, there’s no guarantee than any rookie corner could walk in and do much better than veterans in their first year.
Byron Jones, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath
Lastly, we’re assuming that Jones is a safety now and will start next year with Church. That leaves Wilcox and Heath as experienced backups and create a solid foursome here. Perhaps Dallas will end up adding a safety talent and moving Jones back to corner, but I feel pretty good about this being the lineup for 2016.
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Clearly, things are thinner on defense than offense right now. Dallas has to add at least one more defensive end they can count on for next year. Gregory return in Week 5 but could be gone for the entire year with one more illegal substance issue. What’s more, he hasn’t proven he can be a consistent contributor and likely still needs physical development to stay on the field for long stretches.
The Cowboys could go into next year with their secondary as is but are likely to add talent. Claiborne, Church, Wilcox, and Heath are all on expiring deals. If Scandrick doesn’t recover well from his injury then Dallas may have a decision to make on him, too. Despite the worries on the defensive line, I still view Ramsey as a key target for them given what he could offer immediately and going forward.