Someone is suiting up as an NFL player for the last time tonight.
We don't know exactly who, but more than likely there is a player who's lifelong dream will come crashing to a halt when the clock strikes midnight on the east coast. We have our suspicions, as we feverishly play with Coty's Roster Builder and try to combine our own prejudices with how we believe Jason Garrett and the coaching staff are evaluating talent. Of course, the GM has some say in the matter as well; regardless of how he said that nobody that the HC doesn't want to be on the team will be here.
There's a lot of wiggle room in that statement; the head coach probably wants a roster limit of 80 to go to battle with every Sunday. So technically, one can't find fault in that statement should a veteran with a large amount of guaranteed money sneak onto the roster while an up and coming mold of clay is placed at risk on the practice squad. Ripe for the plucking, they are.
So as we enter this final preseason game in which the team's stars will be on the sideline wearing jerseys tucked into jeans and side-tilted baseball caps, we need to remember the cold hard truth here. The NFL roster limit is 53. Eight of those players will not be active for game-days, but will have their 2012 salaries guaranteed. Outside of those 53, an additional eight will be placed on the practice squad, making considerably less and at risk to be out of the league at a moment's notice.
The dividing line between those two sets of eight guys is miniscule in talent, but gargantuan in importance. That doesn't even address the players on the outside of those fringe 16 that might be working at Walmart come Monday. There's no guarantee another club will come calling; sometimes the phone never rings.
These warriors survived the first 12 roster cuts; but 22 more are due Friday. It's a possibility the club doesn't wait that long; with only six days remaining before they play for keeps.
So who's at risk? Follow the jump to review the guys that are playing in their own mini-Super Bowl at Miami tonight.
QB: Stephen McGee, Rudy Carpenter
There are still a few people supportive of McGee's quest to be an NFL quarterback. Most of them are in the Cowboys offensive brain trust. I asked on Twitter yesterday if there was anything McGee could do in the game to earn a spot on the 53. The most likely to happen response was gain 100 pounds and move to nose tackle.
Rudy Carpenter is eligible for the practice squad and with the team having so many injury concerns, Dallas could use the roster flexibility of only carrying two QBs on the active roster.
RB: Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar, Jamize Olawale, Shaun Chapas
The competition for the third running back is a three-man race. Tanner and Dunbar missed the first two games and got some action last week. Olawale is a stocky, converted-WR with one of the best speed scores among this year's runners. Tanner is the only one not eligible for the practice squad but is probably closer to stealing carries from Felix than being on the street.
Chapas scares me in that he seems to contribute nothing as a FB but is on every special teams unit. Bryan Broaddus even hinted that the club is considering him as the Witten fill-in instead of TE Andrew Sczerba.
WR: Danny Coale, Andre Holmes, Tim Benford, Salim Hakim
Nothing to question about leaving Cole Beasley or Dwayne Harris off this list, right? While we might be acting a bit overzealous about their ceilings, both should be safe bets for the 53. Coale is a fifth-round draft pick that has been out all offseason with a broken foot. He's the prototypical slot receiver though and would be tough to walk away from.
Andre Holmes is the prototypical lead receiver based on his height. He was Jerry Jones' pet cat during the offseason but has been consistently inconsistent in practice and games. He doesn't know how to use his body, but he's an extremely tough cut.
Tim Benford and Salim Hakim both received higher-than-normal financial love as UDFA's from Dallas. Benford gets $20,000 if he's cut and Hakim received $10,000 up front. Regardless, Jerry Jones has billions; with a 'b'. Both are probably hoping to impress enough to make the practice squad.
TE: Andrew Sczerba
Word came down that Witten is a game-time decision for the opener, so what will Dallas do to prepare if he won't play? Pay special attention to his special teams play tonight.
OL: Pat McQuistan, Jeff Adams, Derrick Dockery, Harland Gunn, Ron Leary, Daniel Loper
The biggest group of what-ifs comes from the biggest what-the-hell-is-going-on-heres. The O-Line is flashing, but let's not pretend it's good. Let's just hope they're good enough not to get Romo killed. Is there anyone in this grouping that looks particularly adept at helping in that regard?
Dallas rolled with three tackles all of last season and could do so again. McQuistan was brought in so Ware didn't reach the QB on every practice rep with the second and third teams. He might have more experience, but seems the same player as his first go around with the team. Have UDFA's Adams or Gunn shown anything worthy of a practice squad slot?
Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper were brought back after injuries ravished the interior line. Dockery is done; time to be a family man. Loper bounced up and down with the team last year and could do the same.
Ron Leary is the biggest question. Dallas gave him big UDFA money, but not big money in the grand scheme of things ($200k guaranteed). Will that guarantee a roster spot despite his disappointing play coming out of small-time Memphis? Will he be safe for now, then practice squaded after a Week One vet free agent addition?
S: Matt Johnson, Mana Silva, Eddie Whitley
Whitley appears the least likely to make the club on any level. He is definitely behind the other two contestants. Mana Silva is on several ST units and made several plays in the dress rehearsal against St. Louis. Solid, bone-shaking hits that the team wants out of a strong safety.
The question mark is Johnson, whom the club was estatic about getting in the amateur draft. The small school product has missed the majority of offseason and camp. First he missed OTAs because of school requirements, then he got injured. He finally returned against the Rams, and strained his other hammy. The Cowboys originally hoped he could compete for a starting spot; doubtful they'd let a guy like that hit the open market via the cut before PS designation. So what does that mean for Silva?
CB: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Lionel Smith, Teddy Williams
Akwasi-Owusu-Ansah, who do you know? He survived the first round of cuts based on his size-speed ratio; but does he play big or fast? Rob Ryan brought him back and returned him to cornerback, but this cat's lives might run out tonight.
Smith had a really tough game against the Rams and will need to rebound to earn a starry paycheck. Former track star Teddy Williams is another positional convert. Speed wins in the NFL, but you have to be able to play football to stick on a roster. What will he show in his defense?
LB: Alex Albright, Kyle Wilber, Adrian Hamilton, Orie Lemon
In my eyes, Albright is very safe. He's been in on several plays, is getting good snaps and has the versatility to play both inside and out. Don't know much about his coverage skills though, that's where I'll focus tonight.
Wilber is the Cowboys initial fourth-round draft pick and has suffered two injuries that have removed him from the rotation. The Cowboys are expected to wait for the return of a guy who played 3-4 OLB in college; a rarity.
Hamilton is making plays all over the field, even escaping a double-team to gain a sack in a game where he was questionable due to a gimpy knee. Prarie View A&M alum and 2011 NCAA sack leader. if he's released in advance of a PS designation he's getting scooped up by another team.
Lemon has made some plays but the team is youthful at inside linebacker; meaning there isn't an onus to "get younger" here. Numbers game wins out sometimes, and if so, Lemon loses.
DL: Clifton Geathers, Ben Bass, Baraka Atkins, Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Rob Callaway
Basically, every "listed" DE except for Hatcher and Crawford are in danger. Coleman is getting his snaps, but if the team is going young... well, he's the old man. Is there anything he can do? His fate is probably sealed in the play of his competitors. Spears is a vet, but with a shiny new extension. He's played like he knows his job is on the line but he isn't quite old enough to be considered a progress-stopper.
Atkins is an NFL journeyman, who hasn't played an NFL snap. Chances are he'll need a couple sacks to be on the radar. Callaway received a three-year deal from Dallas but hasn't shown much in preseason. He was signed to the PS last season after Detroit's final cuts, but things might be crowded there this year.
Now comes the tough decisions. Clifton Geathers is a mountain of a man; you'd want him to anchor a line. Problem is, he hasn't done that this exhibition season. How long does Dallas wait for the light to come on, and do they protect him on the 53 or expose him while waiting?
Ben Bass had an outstanding Week One preseason game and Dallas has been trying to hide him in hopes of sneaking him onto the practice squad. The problem is, teams have already noticed him. Bryan Broaddus said yesterday that there were seven scouts he sat with at that Oakland game and most of them really liked what they saw; including teams that would make him a 4-3 DE.
So there you have it. 16 on defense, 17 on offense, 33 total. All competing to continue their NFL careers; their childhood dreams. Tell them the final NFL preseason game means nothing.