There is a still a lot of time between now and when the Dallas Cowboys have to cut down their roster to get under the league mandated 53 limit, but that doesn't mean we can't go ahead and speculate what the team will look like in 2019. That's what I'm going to attempt to do today in this way-too-early Cowboys 53-man roster projection.
This is no easy task to undertake. The Dallas Cowboys have one of their deepest rosters from top to bottom in recent memory. There are going to be a lot of good football players who are left looking for another team to play for when cuts are made. That's both good and bad, because you never want to let go of good players and see them find success with another team.
With all of that in mind, here is my first attempt at predicting the 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster. Feel free to use the comment section located at the end of the article to share your thoughts and opinions on the players I selected, or didn't.
Dak Prescott, Mike White
The Dallas Cowboys carried three quarterbacks on the roster last season, but it's unlikely they will do so once again in 2019. Because of the current depth throughout the roster, Dallas will probably go light at QB this year in order to go a little deeper at another position. If that is indeed the case, I think Mike White gets the nod over Cooper Rush because of his upside and the fact he still has three years remaining on his rookie contract.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Mike Weber, Jamize Olawale
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Tony Pollard and Mike Weber to hopefully lighten the load on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders to help prolong his career, but don't be surprised if they add a veteran running back at some point. For now though, it's up to these two rookies to solidify the RB position in 2019 without any outside help coming in.
Jamize Olawale was re-signed by the Cowboys during the offseason, meaning they will once again carry a fullback on their 53-man roster. They haven't used a FB much on offense with Scott Linehan calling plays these last several years, but hopefully Kellen Moore can get Olawale more involved in the game plan. He can be a weapon if utilized correctly.
Wide Receiver (6)
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, Cedrick Wilson
For now, I have the Dallas Cowboys keeping six wide receivers on their 53-man roster. But, I think only Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb are the only ones who have anything locked down right now. I decided to go ahead and keep Tavon Austin around because he can contribute as a runner, receiver, and return man. I'm also keeping Allen Hurns because of his versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. I went ahead and kept Cedrick Wilson because I like his upside, but there are a lot of young, talented WRs who could challenge anyone of the bottom three for a roster spot.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
The Dallas Cowboys pretty much have the same tight end group from a season ago, except Jason Witten essentially replaces Geoff Swaim as the TE1. Witten's decision to come out of retirement and rejoin the Cowboys looks good on paper because of his past success, but I don't know if he is a clear upgrade. That's one of the reasons why I'm hoping Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz can take the next steps in their development, but if not don't be surprised if Dallas looks outside the organization for more help.
Offensive Line (9)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Connor McGovern, Joe Looney, Cameron Fleming, Mitch Hyatt
The Dallas Cowboys have some outstanding depth along the offensive line right now. They're starting five should be pretty much set in stone with Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Zack Martin, Connor Williams, and Travis Frederick, who should regain his starting job after missing all of 2018 with an autoimmune disease. This group should be a force to be reckoned with this season, if healthy.
Luckily though, the depth behind their starters gives the Cowboys the ability to not only cover themselves if an injury should happen, but also allow them to go a little short along the OL. Joe Looney and Connor McGovern can both play guard or center, and Cameron Fleming will once again handle the swing tackle responsibilities. Dallas could go was just eight OL in order to go a little deeper at another position, but they seem to think pretty highly of Mitch Hyatt and may need to stash him on the roster to keep another team from snatching him up.
Defensive Line (10)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, Tyrone Crawford, Dorance Armstrong, Taco Charlton, Antwaun Woods, Christian Covington, Maliek Collins, Trysten Hill, Kerry Hyder
I decided to go with 10 defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys in this 53-man roster projection. I went with four true defensive ends and four true defensive tackles. The other two in Tyrone Crawford and Kerry Hyder have the versatility to play DE or DT, which is something Rod Marinelli values in his "rush men". But, I think at best only half of these players are safe.
Outside of DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, no defensive end should feel safe they've secured a roster spot in 2019. The same can probably be said about defensive tackle as well behind Antwaun Woods, Christian Covington, Maliek Collins, and Trysten Hill. Watching the current Cowboys group of defensive lineman slug it out throughout the remainder of the offseason could be the most interesting position battles to keep an eye on.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, Chris Covington, Justin March-Lillard
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will once again return as the Dallas Cowboys starting MIKE and WILL linebackers in 2019, leaving only the SAM LB spot up for grabs. As things stand right now though, Sean Lee seems to be the favorite to play SAM this year. I think Joe Thomas will once again be the backup MIKE and WILL, leaving Chris Covington and Justin March-Lillard fighting for what little playing time may be left. This is a position I believe the Cowboys could look to upgrade with a more proven vet at some point if such a player becomes available.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Michael Jackson
I think the cornerback position for the Dallas Cowboys will look much like it did last season. Jones and Awuzie should once again start on the outside, with Brown handling the nickel/slot CB responsibility. Jourdan Lewis will unfortunately fight for whatever scraps are left over, but there aren't many No. 4 CBs around the league as talented. He could be an invaluable fill-in if needed. As far as Michael Jackson is concerned, the hope is he rarely touches the field, making his rookie year a developmental one.
Xavier Woods, George Iloka, Jeff Heath, Donovan Wilson
The only thing I really know for sure about the Dallas Cowboys current stable of safeties is that Xavier Woods is the only one guaranteed a roster spot. He should be the starting free safety this season, but who plays next to him remains up in the air. George Iloka looks to be the favorite to earn the distinction, but that remains to be seen. I decided to keep Jeff Heath because of his experience and special teams ability, and Donovan Wilson over Kavon Frazier due to his youth and upside. Don't be surprised if this is a position Dallas tries to upgrade though.
Special Teams (3)
Chris Jones, Brett Maher, L.P. Ladouceur
Barring some unforeseen addition, it looks like Chris Jones, Brett Maher, and L.P. Ladouceur should once again be the Dallas Cowboys starting specialty players in 2019. There currently isn't any competition on the roster that should cause them any concern about losing their jobs as of right now, but that could change.
Is Ezekiel Elliott is the Most Dominant Running Back in the NFL?
There's no player in football that is more hotly debated at the moment than Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Though much of the debate surrounds his potential contract extension, which would likely make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there's also been a lot of debate about his standing as the best running back in the NFL.
On Thursday, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox released his list of the most dominant players at each position. It's a fantastic read and not just because he listed Ezekiel Elliott as the most dominant running back in the NFL.
It's certainly easy to see where he's coming from despite the debate that rages across the NFL's fanbases. Ezekiel Elliott's lead the NFL in rushing two of the three season's he's been in the league. Both of those seasons, Elliott only played 15 games, getting the benefit of the Cowboys playoff positioning being solidified prior to week 17. In 2017, he would have probably ran away with the league's rushing title again, which would make him the three-time defending rushing champion heading into 2019.
In that 2017 season when he missed six games and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he only rushed for seven yards on nine carries, Elliott still finished in the top 10 in rushing.
In 2018, he bested Saquon Bakley by 127 yards rushing. Had Elliott played in the week 17 finale last season and rushed for his season average, he would have won the rushing title by more than 200 yards. And he did that in what many considered to be a down season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack. Pro Football Focus even graded Elliott as the 30th best running back for 2018.
In 2018, Elliott had 2,000 total yards, besting his 2016 number of 1,994 total yards as a rookie. His rushing total was down in 2018 from 2016, but he still had an excellent season.
No disrespect to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, or Chrisitan McCaffrey, but they don't have the credentials that Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table. Those guys are great running backs in their own right, but Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing in two of the three seasons he's been in the league and would have probably lead the league in 2017 had he not been suspended.
Since 2015, only Le'Veon Bell has averaged more total yards per game than Elliott, but Elliott's close and he's not used as much in the passing game as Bell. Only Todd Gurley has a higher average of rushing touchdowns per game than Elliott.
Elliott's 3.4 receptions per game through the first three seasons of his career is only slightly better than Todd Gurley who ranks sixth among this group of players. The Dallas Cowboys attempted to get Elliott more involved in 2018 but didn't work him downfield enough in his targets for him to be anything more than a dump-off option. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys should work to get him running more intermediate routes in the passing game because as we saw in the Detroit game last season, Elliott's got really good hands.
Historically, Elliott is off to a great start to his career. His first three years in the NFL compare quite favorably to two Hall of Famers and one of the most dynamic running backs of the early 21st century.
No player with more than 100 career attempts in the NFL has averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott.
Think about that for a second. Through his first three seasons, he's averaged more rushing yards per game than Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, and the list goes on and on.
If you look at what he's done compared to other players during their first three years. Only Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott in the first three seasons of their respective careers.
One of the things that people have used to knock Ezekiel Elliott has been the volume of carries that he's received, but there's a reason that the Dallas Cowboys lean on him so heavily. They've created a run-first identity and though at times it has made the offense somewhat inefficient, it's not because the player they're handing to is not a good player, but because every team in the NFL is expecting the Dallas Cowboys to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott.
In 2018 in particular, the Cowboys offensive coaching staff, namely the departed Scott Linehan, didn't do enough to create favorable matchups in the running game. Too often it was a first down run out of heavy personnel that the defense was expecting.
With two rushing titles already in the bag, there's no reason to expect anything different from Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. It's anticipated that the offensive gameplan and execution will be better in 2019 than it was in 2018. The offensive line will be better and with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, there's a thought that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be less predictable moving forward.
The debate will continue to rage over the value of extending Ezekiel Elliott with a contract that will carry him to his age 28 or 29 season, but there is no debating that Ezekiel Elliott is the best and most dominant running back in the NFL.
Is DeMarco Murray a Factor in Ezekiel Elliott’s Rumored Holdout?
There's been a lot of talk this week about a rumored training camp holdout by Ezekiel Elliott, with the Dallas Cowboys' star running back seeking a renegotiated contract. If Zeke does actually hold out, I can't help but wonder if the Cowboys' handling of DeMarco Murray a few years ago isn't a factor in his decision.
Quick history lesson; in 2014, Murray ran for the most yards (1,845) in Cowboys history for a single season. But that was also the final year of his rookie contract, and Dallas chose to let DeMarco leave in free agency when the two sides were unable to agree on new contract.
Murray had just turned 26 when he hit free agency, and his four years Dallas had not had consistent production or availability. 2014 was the first time he was able to play at such a high level, or played a full 16-game season.
As you might remember, Murray left and joined the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly. As with most things during Kelly's time in Philly, it proved to be a disaster. DeMarco was released after one year and then had a couple of seasons in Tennessee before retiring.
The way it all turned out seemed to validate the Cowboys' decision. Perhaps Murray's big year in 2014 was more about adding Zack Martin and Ron Leary to the offensive line than DeMarco himself. He certainly didn't look like the same player at any other point in his career.
But Ezekiel Elliott and his agent may not be too worried about all of those nuances. They may be looking at the simple fact that the Cowboys allowed one of the most productive RBs in football in 2014 to just walk away in free agency.
Zeke may be worried that Dallas will allow him to do the same.
There are some important differences to note between Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. For one, Elliott's been elite every season. He's led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last three years.
Zeke has also been faultlessly durable, missing no games due to injury. Murray had already missed 11 games his first three years before we even got to 2014.
However, there are some similarities that can't be ignored. While Elliott's never missed time for health reasons, he missed six games in 2017 due to a suspension for a domestic violence accusation. He also came dangerously close to missing more time this year due to an incident with a security guard in Las Vegas during the offseason.
Availability is availability, whether it's for behavioral issues or injuries. The team assumes the same risk either way.
Also, Elliott has had the same benefit of running behind this great Cowboys offensive line for the last three years. It hasn't been quite as good as 2014, with Ron Leary never being completely replaced, but he hasn't lacked for superior blocking compared to most NFL running backs.
Another factor; Zeke is due to turn 24 next week. That means he'd be 25 next year when playing on the 5th-year option, and about to turn 26 when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2021.
DeMarco Murray was also 26 when he hit free agency in 2015. And he'd only played four NFL seasons, while Zeke would have just finished his fifth.
I'm not saying that Murray and Elliott are the same player. Zeke has proven himself better over a long period of time and with less talent in front and around him. He's carried the offense without Tony Romo's passing or Jason Witten and Dez Bryant still in their prime, like DeMarco had in 2014.
But in 2015, with the prospect of competing for a Super Bowl well in reach, the Cowboys decided to gamble on the shaky Darren McFadden rather than pay DeMarco Murray market value. They trusted their system and offensive line to produce a successful running back.
Zeke may be worried that Dallas is preparing to take that same approach with him. They can keep playing him at a discount this year and in 2020, when even his raise to $9 million is still a bargain compared to guys like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell.
In 2021 the Cowboys could then hit Elliott with the franchise tag. He'd make a ton that year, but without any of the long-term security that other elite RBs are currently enjoying.
In that scenario, Zeke would now be turning 27 the next time free agency rolled around. And the window for getting a multi-year contract may have passed.
That's three more seasons for a major injury to finally find him. If nothing else, it's about 45-50 more games of NFL mileage that could scare other teams off.
Again, this notion of Ezekiel Elliott holding out is just a rumor right now. It may have been floated just to get some easy clicks at Pro Football Talk, which is hardly a new strategy for them.
But in all fairness, you can see why Zeke might be considering it. There's a fair reason to question the Cowboys long-term loyalty, and it goes back to how they handled their last star running back.
History Suggests a Contract Extension for Ezekiel Elliott is a Crapshoot
If rumors are true, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon could be following in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell by threatening to hold out not only training camp, but the 2019 season if they're not rewarded with contract extensions from their respective teams. It's a bold strategy, especially considering the history of long-term extensions previously given to running backs.
Contract extensions for running backs is always a controversial topic. It's not only one of the easier positions to replace, but the shelf life for a NFL RB is a short one due to the physical nature of the position. Players bodies break down quicker, meaning their lifespan in the league on average is between just 3 to 5 years.
For the most part, the market value for running backs around the league would suggest the position isn't one teams like to invest a lot of resources in. Although, there was an uptick in the market last year when Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $14.375 million a year and then David Johnson signed for three years worth $13 million a season. Those two contracts could be the starting point for Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott's camp knows all of this and so do the Dallas Cowboys. But, handing out upwards of $14 million to a position that has such a short shelf life in the league is a crapshoot at best, even to a player as talented as Zeke. History hasn't been kind to running backs who receive a long-term extension. In fact, it's really hard to put a finger on one single RB who has lived up to their contract extension.
Take Todd Gurley and David Johnson for instance. Gurley already has long-term concerns about his health, and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to an injury. Both players are currently the top paid at the position right now, but they're not the only examples of why the Cowboys should be cautious offering Zeke a contract extension.
The RB tier below Todd Gurley and David Johnson are making around $8 million a year after receiving a contract extension. Unfortunately, the results are about the same. Devonta Freeman ($8.25 M) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 M) missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to injuries after being rewarded with long-term deals. Only LeSean McCoy ($8.01 M) has come close to living up to his deal, but even he has struggled off-and-on with injuries.
Need more convincing?
Let's take this back a little bit further. Chris Johnson, Johnathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice… I can go on and on. Even players such as Arian Foster who remained productive after receiving an extension struggled with injuries. If you haven't yet, you may start to see a trend here.
Now, I'm not saying the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't extend Ezekiel Elliott. Personally I'm on the fence about it and would be fine with them going either direction. But, they absolutely have to be cautious with the way they handled this. History is a good indicator they may not get the same kind of production from Zeke as they have previously.
Do you think the Cowboys should give Ezekiel Elliott a contract extension?
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