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 62 players under contract right now, which is nine more than they'll have in Week One. How set are they at some positions, and how much more work is needed at others?
We're going to divide this up into separate articles for the offense and defense. Here's a projection of what the Cowboys offense would look like using the currently signed players:
Tony Romo, Kellen Moore, Jameil Showers
If Dallas decides to wait one more year before drafting a quarterback than this could easily be the QB depth chart in 2016. They may just go with two quarterbacks if Showers or some other prospect isn't worth holding with a roster spot.
Moore isn't the Messiah that some claim him to be but at least he's been around a while and will now have a full offseason with the Cowboys. It is important to remember that Moore was signed in September last year so missed out on training camp and preseason with Dallas. There is the possibility for him to be much improved in our system in 2016.
Personally, I'm not very high on Moore and would like to see the Cowboys spend at least a mid-round pick on a QB to work with. I wish they could have landed Matt Moore as a backup option and hope they will pursue one more veteran, also. They could run with what they have, but I sure hope they look to improve.
Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Rod Smith, Ben Malena
Dallas just re-signed Dunbar yesterday and will hope he can return to the role he was serving last year. That alone would take some touches way from McFadden, who needs to be handled carefully after such a heavy workload last year.
Given injury concerns for McFadden and Dunbar you'd assume that they will keep four runners this year. Smith is a bruiser and Malena is a speed back, but neither is at all proven. Dallas also has to think about the future with both McFadden and Dunbar on expiring deals. I imagine they will draft someone of consequence in April.
Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead
I don't expect the Cowboys to add anyone of note here. Williams and Butler will likely compete for a starting job and they will be happy with the loser of that battle as a backup. Whitehead should be locked in to his roster spot for return duties alone and was starting to find an offensive niche late last year.
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim
Hanna's new contract pays him an average of $2.75 million a year, which is pretty rich for a backup. That deal tells me Hanna is now ahead of Escobar on the depth chart. What's more, Dallas may utilize Hanna as a backfield blocker rather than add a more traditional fullback.
If he has been passed by Hanna, will Escobar even be on next year's roster? It's the last year of his rookie deal and he's owed $1.3 million. He could be released for about $1 million is cap savings. Escobar will certainly be in camp and preseason, but could Dallas cut him for cheaper depth options? He will need to start making some plays again, like the one pictured here, to save himself.
Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Charles Brown
The Cowboys have the bare minimum right now for next year; two starters and a veteran swing tackle. They will certainly have some younger prospects in camp and may even draft one in the middle rounds as an eventual replacement for Free. However, this was their trio last year and they could stick with it if need be.
GUARD & CENTER
Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary, Chaz Green
Green was drafted as a tackle but was taking practice snaps at guard last year, and at least one Cowboys insider says that's where he will be going forward. Leary is back for at least one more year an overqualified backup.
Backup center is the glaring issue here. Mackenzy Bernadeau is gone and neither of these backups has shown the ability to play that role. The emergency plan seems to be having Martin slide over and play it, but I imagine they will bring in some prospects before we get to Oxnard.
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As you can see, there is at least a workable team among these players but still opportunities for better depth and long-term prospects. One more quality running back is the most glaring need, though personally I want to see them with more behind Tony Romo as well.
The good news is that, unlike with the defense, Dallas can go into April's draft without feeling forced to fill any holes. They can stick to their board and go with the best talents.
Speaking of the defense, look for that breakdown tomorrow.