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The Outsiders: Who May Not Make Cowboys 2018 Roster?

Jess Haynie

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Rico Gathers

The 2018 Dallas Cowboys are loaded with young talent, which means there may be some tough cuts as the team puts together its 53-man roster for this season. Players you had high hopes for in the past could be pushed out by the influx of new talent, or just changing circumstances.

Last week, I gave you my first 53-man roster projection for 2018. Today, I thought we'd look at some of the bigger names on the roster who didn't make the cut. How close are they, and what needs to happen to make me change my mind?

Rico Gathers, TE

Perhaps the most surprising and potentially upsetting of my projected cuts, Gathers has tantalized us for two years now with his athletic ability. He had a strong 2017 preseason that got fans very excited, but a concussion put him on injured reserve and he never returned to action.

There have been whispers that the coaches aren't in love with Rico's work ethic, which is disturbing for a guy who has such a long and difficult road to making it in the NFL. Gathers didn't play college football, and the transition from power forward to tight end is one few could accomplish even if they gave max effort.

The biggest problem for Rico will be picking up pro-level blocking, which is especially vital for a team that relies on the run game like Dallas. Gathers could easily be buried if guys like Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz, and Blake Jarwin are overwhelmingly superior blockers.

With Fullback Jamize Olawale big enough to also play some tight end, the numbers could be a problem for Rico. Unless he makes a dramatic leap forward in his game, earning the confidence to be a consistent contributor, he may have to continue his NFL experiment with another franchise.

Chaz Green

Dallas Cowboys OT Chaz Green

Chaz Green, OT

Some are probably surprised Green's still on the roster as it is after his disastrous 2017 run. But even if he's just a camp body, Chaz looks to be with the Cowboys at least through training camp and preseason.

In the final year of his rookie deal, Green is relatively cheap for his experience. But not all experience is good, and Chaz became a laughing-stock after the Falcons' Adrian Clayborn olbiterated him last year.

Dallas brought in veteran Cameron Fleming to take over as the swing tackle this year, which alone is a big shot to Green's job security. With Joe Looney and Marcus Martin at the interior spots, Green doesn't appear to have a role.

Given his time in the system, though, Chaz would likely be the first man up if someone gets hurt this summer. And if the Cowboys do want to keep nine offensive linemen on the roster, Green's experience at both guard and tackle give him some versatility value.

Chaz Green living up to his third-round draft pick appears to be a lost cause. But he could still hang around for one more year if a few things fall his way.

Is Charles Tapper the Next DeMarcus Lawrence for Cowboys?

Dallas Cowboys DE Charles Tapper (Paul Spinelli via AP)

Charles Tapper, DE

Taken one round after Chaz Green in 2016, Tapper has been held back by injuries these first two seasons. Without a real foothold on the roster, his spot may now be lost to the team's latest fourth-round pick.

Dallas took another defensive end, Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, in last month's draft. He will automatically have an edge on Tapper as the shiny new toy.

To make matters worse for Charles, Randy Gregory appears poised to return from his suspension. If Gregory is anything close to the player Dallas selected in the 2015 draft, he will have a roster spot.

The Cowboys also signed veteran free agent Kony Ealy last month, who they have liked since he came into the league in 2014. Add these depth guys to your entrenched players like DeMarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton and it's not hard to see how Charles Tapper could be pushed out.

Tapper's always seemed like he has potential, especially after he got a sack in the first game of 2017. But that came against the Giants' version of Chaz Green, Ereck Flowers.

If Charles can make it in the NFL, he may have to prove it elsewhere.

Lewis Neal

Dallas Cowboys DT Lewis Neal

Lewis Neal, DT

One of the fan favorites from last preseason, Neal was a surprising cut who made it to the practice squad. He was signed to the active roster for the second half of 2017, appearing in seven games.

The Cowboys have a lot of guys already who fill the role that Neal does as the athletic 3-technique defensive tackle. He's up against Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Maliek Collins, and newly acquired Jihad Ward.

Those numbers we discussed at defensive end regarding Charles Tapper also affect the tackles. If guys like Crawford and Irving aren't needed to play on the edges, they can commit more to the inside spots. It's a compound effect that limits opportunities for guys at the bottom.

2018 just isn't looking like a year for rags-to-riches players. The Cowboys have loaded up in recent years with solid drafts and other moves to bring in quality young talent. The decks are stacked against guys like Neal, undersized and undrafted, no matter how hard they work.

~ ~ ~

While we hate to see intriguing players like Rico Gathers or Lewis Neal not make the roster, these aren't bad things for the Cowboys. Project players are fun to talk about, but ultimately you want your roster spots going to guys with more substantial NFL talent and potential.

So yes, there will almost certainly be some tough cuts in 2018. Some we'll mourn more than others. But when guys you like don't make it, it means guys the coaches liked more did.

It means the team, at least in theory, is stronger for it.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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BREAKING: WR Terrance Williams Gets Dropped by Dallas Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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Takeaway Tuesday: What We Learned From Cowboys Loss To Packers
AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

The Dallas Cowboys have ended their six-year relationship with Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. According to multiple sources, they have declined a team option on Williams' contract and he will now be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

The move will reportedly save the Cowboys $2.25 million in salary space this year.

Williams was the team's third-round pick in 2013 and started 68 of the 83 games he played in. He developed into a solid number-two receiver by the end of his rookie deal in 2016 and was given a new four-year contract that offseason.

David Moore on Twitter

Terrance Williams career w/ the Cowboys is done. Sources say the club has declined the WR's option for 2019, making him a free agent. The move is no surprise. He caught just 2 passes for 18 yards last season. His departure frees up $2.25 million on the cap.

After another decent year in 2017, things took a bad turn for Terrance last season. It started with an offseason arrest for public intoxication that eventually led to a three-game suspension, although Williams served that while on injured reserve.

The Cowboys already appeared to be giving Williams' spot away when they made several offseason acquisitions at WR; Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin all were brought in even before Terrance's arrest.

While Williams did start in two of Dallas' first three games in 2018, he only had three passes his thrown his way. The team finally put him on IR due to ongoing complications with a surgically-repaired foot.

While it didn't end well, Terrance Williams' time in Dallas was ultimately a solid return for a third-round pick. He made a few big plays and was a proficient run-blocker, good enough to start in almost 75% of the team's games since he was drafted.

The Cowboys now hope that another third-round pick, Michael Gallup in 2018, will do bigger and better things.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver

Jess Haynie

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Is WR Cole Beasley Being Underutilized? 1

The Dallas Cowboys' year in 2018 was marked by big moves at wide receiver. Dez Bryant was released in April and then a first-round pick was traded in October to add Amari Cooper. Could this 2019 offseason offer anything close to that level of activity?

Unlike last season, Dallas should enjoy some stability in its starting lineup at receiver. Cooper returns at a much higher price, with the $13.9 million cap hit from his fifth-year option coming into player. Amari cost just $412k against the Cowboys' salary cap last year.

That huge jump in cap cost may hurt but Cooper backed it up with his Pro Bowl play in 2018. The top WR contracts average $15-$17 million per year, so even now Dallas is arguably getting Amari at a bargain.

The Cowboys didn't give up a first-round pick for a year-and-a-half rental, so we can expect them to seek a long-term extension with Cooper in the near future. With the contracts of DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott more immediate concerns, any new deal for Amari probably won't come until the middle of the season or in 2020.

Not only is WR1 set for next year but Michael Gallup appears locked in as the other starter. Of his 68 targets last year, 40 came in the second half of the year. It was a great season for a third-round rookie, and there are high hopes for Gallup's development in his first full offseason.

The stability up front is a blessing for the Cowboys, but it doesn't relieve them of big decisions at the WR position this offseason. They face a particularly critical choice when it comes to the free agency of Cole Beasley.

Cole Beasley

Dallas Cowboys WR Cole Beasley

It's hard to believe Beasley's already been in Dallas for seven seasons. An undrafted gem, Cole has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players for some time. He led them in receiving in 2016 and has been one of the most efficient, QB-friendly options for the last several years.

Beasley's contract expiring this year is only one issue. He has become very vocal lately about wanting to be a bigger part of the offense. His targets dropped tremendously over the course of 2018, which was especially evident when Cole got just five total passes thrown his way in the two playoffs games.

If Beasley wants a larger role, does that also mean he wants more money? He was making a little over $3 million/season on his last deal.

With Gallup on a cheap rookie contract, Dallas could afford to pay raise Beasley's compensation a bit. But if they don't plan to use him more than they did last year, then perhaps the two parties just aren't a good fit at this point.

If Cole walks in free agency then the Cowboys will now have to find a new number-three receiver. The next best option would be Tavon Austin, but he is also a free agent. However, he could likely be re-signed for a fraction of what Beasley would want.

Austin has the physical skills to be an offensive weapon but he doesn't have the reliable hands that Beasley does. Even if Dallas wants Tavon back solely for his skills on punt returns, they may not be ready to make him a bigger part of the offense.

Could WR Noah Brown Help the Cowboys at Tight End?

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown

One option might be promoting Noah Brown, whose at times has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant with his physical playing style. His blocking ability would lend itself to the single-back formations Dallas likes to run out of, and he's flashed some good hands in limited opportunities.

In that scenario Amari Cooper would likely play out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of with his quickness. The same would be done if Dallas went with another internal solution, such as Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams.

That said, the Cowboys are unlikely to pick up the second-year option on Hurns' contract, not wanting to pay him over $6 million in 2019 after last year's low production.  It also doesn't seem likely that they want to keep Williams after last year's issues.

Taking all of that into consideration, Dallas may very well be doing some WR shopping in free agency. Fortunately for them, it's a favorable market if you're looking for a slot receiver.

On top of Beasley and Austin already in the free agent pool, Golden Tate could at least match Cole's play if not potentially offer an upgrade. Baltimore's John Brown, Tampa's Adam Humphries, and Washington's Jamison Crowder are all other proven options. Emmanuel Sanders, while not currently a free agent, is a very possible cap casualty for the Broncos.

Guys like Humphries and Crowder are younger than Beasley and could provide better long-term value on their contract. That may be a more attractive option at this point for the Cowboys.

Lance Lenoir

Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir

Dallas won't need to add a lot of bodies at WR thanks to a few young prospects. They still have Lance Lenoir and Cedrick Wilson under contract, plus signed 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith as a potential rehabilitation project.

But again, these guys are all just bodies right now. Lenoir has had his opportunities and not done much with them, though he does offer some value as a potential return man. Wilson spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

The Cowboys could still look at a receiver with one of their mid-round draft picks, but it's hard to get much production early there. Last year's play from Michael Gallup was a surprise for a third-rounder.

It's far more likely that Dallas will either work things out with Cole Beasley or pursue a veteran replacement in free agency.

So no, thankfully, we don't have to worry about any monumental changes at the top of the WR depth chart in 2019. But Beasley was more than just a third receiver, and keeping or replacing him will have a significant impact on the offense going forward.

If Dallas is truly ready to commit to Dak Prescott as the quarterback of the future then they can't take anything about his receiving options lightly. Therefore, wide receiver remains an important offseason focus for the Cowboys in 2019.



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Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus

John Williams

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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.

Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.

Here’s what he had to say:

Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...

...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.

Brian Martin - Inside The Star

I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.

I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.

They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.

Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.

Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.

While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.

The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.

I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.

Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.



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