Cowboys Roster Permutations: Alex Tanney Versus Anthony Armstrong

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With the cut to 75 done, the Dallas Cowboys now look to the battles for the last few roster spots. Sometimes, the battles are not within a position group, but deciding how many to keep at different spots.

The initial cutdown for NFL teams does not often contain major surprises, and I think that held true for the Dallas Cowboys. Looking back at my most recent roster projection, I didn't have any of the players that turned in their iPads in my expected lineup or on my desired practice squad. (I would also mention that I correctly forecast that Jay Ratliff would begin the season in PUP status, but of course modesty prevents that kind of bragging.)

But I will admit that one of the cuts does make me wonder if I have some errors. I was not expecting QB Nick Stephens to be cut prior to the game with the Houston Texans on Friday. I felt he would be a fallback for the practice squad in case something happened with Alex Tanney, or at least allow the team to make sure it did not have to risk Kyle Orton in a completely meaningless game. Now, however, it looks like the game is very much an audition for Tanney to become the third quarterback on the roster.

It is one of those quandaries. If Tanney does really well, he would be at greater risk of being claimed if Dallas tries to waive him and get him to the practice squad. If he doesn't do so well, it would be easier to do that, but perhaps not so desirable. A good showing will increase the pressure to find a spot on the 53-man roster for him, which I think is the outcome that the Cowboys are hoping for.

Someone else will then get pushed off the bubble. And obviously, it is not going to be another quarterback. In looking over my guess at the roster (which is just that, a guess, but which looks pretty good so far), I tried to figure out who is the most likely person to lose out so Tanney gets his shot.

With Jay Ratliff placed in PUP status, it is possible that the team could use that roster spot for Tanney and figure on having someone else out with injury when Ratliff is able to come back (assuming that he will get healthy, of course). Worst case would be to cut someone else if need be. But I think the team is more likely to keep the change on the offensive side, with the concerns about defensive line depth. And based on how I stacked things up, there is an obvious name that is likely to lose out: Anthony Armstrong.

The sixth wide receiver position itself has always been on the bubble. The top five positions seem locked in with Miles Austin, Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris and Terrance Williams. That was the way most saw them lining up before camp, and on-field performance has largely borne that out. In order to go with a sixth wide receiver, the team was going to need someone to prove they were worth keeping on the roster. There were some players who flashed a bit, but Armstrong is the one who, from the beginning of camp, has shown consistent performance. I noticed at the open practice in AT&T Stadium that he also has a prominent role on special teams. He has gotten favorable notice from other quarters as well.

But that sixth wideout always was predicated on just going with two quarterbacks. Given that the team will almost certainly go with four running backs and four tight ends, it will have to either go short on defense or cut back to nine offensive linemen, just to have either a third quarterback or a sixth wide receiver. With the relative tumult due to injuries, I don't see shorting the defense is a viable route. On the offensive line, the Cowboys are probably hoping to have nine healthy linemen on offense. So I think the team will have to choose between Tanney and Armstrong, and I think Tanney is probably going to get a roster spot.

This was one place where I think there was a kind of competition going on. As rabblerousr observed, most of the roster is pretty well figured out by the time camp opens, possibly as many as 47 or 48 spots. But the Cowboys probably were taking a long look at whether to add a third quarterback to the roster this year. I don't think Stephens was going to convince them, and Tanney was a late addition. He has changed the equation, and I think he will make the team. It would be costly for Armstrong, who is way past practice squad eligibility. But the good news is that, unlike the first wave of cuts, the players cut down after the final pre-season game mostly will get another look somewhere, and with several teams around the league in need of some wide receiver depth, or even possible starter upgrades, Armstrong may be able to cash in on being the sixth best receiver for Dallas.

This is the kind of decision that will be made for those final three or four positions. It is a tradeoff in all cases. And no one knows beforehand which is the right answer.

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