Last week I took a shot at determining who the Dallas Cowboys might keep on their final 53 man roster, and that started me thinking who could possibly be the surprise roster cuts that we have to say goodbye to.
Year in and year out, we have to say goodbye to players that we were hoping would be able to make an impact with the team and this year is no exception. Sometimes, these players are veterans that have been with the team for a while or they are rookies, but having to say goodbye to them is sometimes a little hurtful.
Below are some of the players that I could see the Dallas Cowboys having to say goodbye to before the 2016 season gets underway.
J.J. Wilcox, #27
J.J. Wilcox was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys knowing full well that he would have to spend time developing his skill set as a safety in the NFL, but unfortunately that development hasn't quite gone as smoothly as they might have hoped.
Wilcox was a third round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and is entering his final year of his rookie contract. He has yet to establish himself as a consistent contributor on defense and will more than likely have to accept a backup role now that Byron Jones has made the switch to safety full-time.
Wilcox could face some stiff competition from rookie safety Kavon Frazier. If Frazier can show that he has more upside, it could force the Cowboys hand and thus make Wilcox a roster cut.
It's unfortunate, because Wilcox has the physical skill set to play safety in the NFL, but he can't quite get a grasp on the mental aspect that is causing him to be a liability in coverage.
Darren McFadden, #20
Darren McFadden finished fourth in rushing last year in 2015, but that was then and this is now. His elbow injury couldn't have come at a worse time and it could possibly end up costing him his job with the Dallas Cowboys.
Unfortunately for McFadden, Morris will now receive more practice repetitions in training camp and could possibly solidify himself as Elliott's primary backup. The fact that Morris was guaranteed $1.8 million when he signed his two-year contract with the Cowboys doesn't help McFadden much either.
McFadden will have a lot of work to do once he's back to 100%, but it may just be a little bit too late.
Lucky Whitehead, #13
Lucky Whitehead made the Dallas Cowboys final roster in 2015 as an undrafted free agent to help replace Dwayne Harris. It took the coaching staff a while to trust him before he finally took over the punt/kickoff return duties and even longer to find role for him on offense.
The simple fact is that Whitehead is limited to what he can do as a wide receiver because of his size (5'8", 180), and he is best suited to play in the slot where Cole Beasley currently locked in.
The Cowboys can continue to use him as a gimmicky player the way they did in 2015, but his roster spot may be in jeopardy if the organization decides there is another WR that can contribute more.
I'm a fan of Lucky's, but his time with the Cowboys will ultimately depend on how many WRs they decide to keep on the final 53 man roster. He could receive stiff competition from Andy Jones and Ed Eagan, and might just have to prove he's worth keeping around.
Lance Dunbar, #25
When healthy Lance Dunbar can be a key contributor on special teams and offense, but unfortunately he can't seem to stay healthy.
Dunbar has yet to fully recover from last year's knee injury and may have to start out the season on the PUP list. This could possibly be bad news regarding his tenure with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys already have really good depth that the running back position and now due to the fact that Darren McFadden will miss time due to his elbow injury, Alfred Morris and Darius Jackson now have the opportunity to establish themselves.
Dunbar's recovery from injury will ultimately determine his fate with the Cowboys, but with a crowded backfield he will have to reestablish himself when he can finally get back on the field.
Kellen Moore, #17
Kellen Moore is penciled in as the backup QB for the Dallas Cowboys, but his name hasn't been written in ink yet. I don't know about the coaching staff for the Cowboys, but I would still like to see him progress more once he's received more practice repetitions.
He's not someone that's going to scare you with his physical presence. He relies more on his football intelligence and anticipation in order to get the job done.
I think if either Dak Prescott or Jameill Showers are close to performing just as well as Kellen Moore, he could end up being a final roster cut.
Unfortunately, Moore doesn't have quite the upside that Prescott and Showers seem to have and this could be his last chance to establish himself in the NFL. I don't really see him getting another chance with another team in the league.
So, not only is he competing for the backup position with the Cowboys, but he could be playing for his NFL career.
Agree or disagree?
Feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions. I look forward to hearing from you so that we can discuss this topic further.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: LB Kyle Wilber
While not one of the glamour players for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Kyle Wilber has been a steady and reliable asset for six seasons. He is set to be a free agent this offseason, and his return to Dallas is hard to project.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Wilber has only started 16 games but been active for nearly all of them. Even when not having a major part on defense, Kyle has been standout special teams player almost every season.
Dallas saw Wilber's value in 2016 and gave him a two-year extension after his rookie contract expired. Now, though, Kyle turns 29 in April and it may be time to give his roster spot to a younger option with more upside.
It's impressive that Kyle Wilber's lasted this long with the Cowboys. He was drafted to play outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme at that time under Rob Ryan. When Monte Kiffin arrived in 2013 and the switch was made to the 4-3, Wilber was able to transition and stick around for five more seasons.
Wilber's depth value and special teams play earned him $3.25 million over the last two years. Would the Cowboys offer him a similar deal to stick around for another couple of seasons, or is it time to move on?
One factor helping Kyle is that even though Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys promoted from within. Keith O'Quinn has been here since before Wilber's time and knows what he brings to the table. He could push to keep one of his veteran leaders around.
Another consideration is that Dallas isn't flush with linebacker talent at the moment. Anthony Hitchens is a free agent, and if he doesn't return then that only leaves Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson as the known entities.
The Cowboys haven't allowed age to stop them from doing business with Justin Durant the last few seasons. He was 31 when the team signed him last year for veteran depth and insurance.
Could Dallas offer Kyle Wilber a similar deal, one or two years max at a minimal salary, to stick around? It's very possible, and especially if they let him see what free agency has to offer for about a month.
Even if 2017 was the end of his Cowboys run, Wilber has been a success as a fourth-round pick. He's been there when needed and been a leader on special teams. Earning a second contract with your original teams is always an accomplishment.
We'll have to wait and see if he gets a third.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OT Byron Bell
Offensive tackle became a problem position for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. One guy who helped the situation was veteran backup Byron Bell. He is now a free agent, but Dallas could may be interested in bringing him back next year.
Bell was signed last March to provide depth and insurance on the offensive line. He had experience at both guard and center, starting almost every game since entering the NFL in 2011. Byron had missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury while a member of the Tennessee Titans.
After spending the first part of the year at the bottom of the depth chart, Bell was called into duty after a disastrous performance by Chaz Green in the team's Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith injured, Green got the start and was obliterated by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the tune of six sacks.
Byron got the start the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was clearly better than Green. He would remain the team's swing tackle the rest of the season and got another start in the meaningless Week 17 finale.
Now Byron Bell is a 29-year-old free agent. With Chaz Green seemingly a failed experiment, Dallas has to figure out what to do about their depth behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. Could they be in the market to re-sign Bell?
Given his vast starting experience and position flexibility, Byron may have some other suitors in free agency. Offensive linemen age slower than other positions, so 29 isn't the same mark of death that a running back or corner might deal with.
A likely scenario here is that Dallas, assuming they'd like to have Bell back at all, would let him test free agency and then hopefully re-sign him later in the offseason to a minimal contract. Like last year, he would make sense for insurance at the position and especially if the team is going to part ways with Green.
What's more, Byron has increased value after a year in the Cowboys system. Also, in 2017 he was coming off an entirely missed season with the ankle injury. He's a more attractive asset in 2018.
That increased value could be seen by other teams, too. While Bell has had his ups and downs, he's accomplished enough that his name will be noticed among other free agents. A team with major needs on the offensive line might even consider him to compete for a starting job.
We don't know what the Cowboys' interest level is in bringing Byron Bell back, but they may have competition for his services. Given the role he filled to finish 2017, he could wind up an underrated free agent departure this offseason.
4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster
Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.
All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.
TE Blake Jarwin
An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.
Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.
The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.
Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.
WR Lance Lenoir
This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.
By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.
Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.
The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.
DT Datone Jones
A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.
Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.
The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.
DT Lewis Neal
Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.
The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.
Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.
Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.
Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.
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