53 roster spots. That is what every NFL team has to put its team together. In putting the final roster together, the team finds itself faced with making tradeoffs. Going heavy in one place means shorting another position. Different schemes will change the mix as well. And always, the team has to look at what kind of talent it has. There may be a desire to go with, say, five safeties, but if the team only has four real NFL caliber safeties on the roster, and no likely free agent prospects to bring in, it would probably be wiser to use that slot somewhere else.
To put it another way, the construction of the roster involves various moving pieces. One change can affect other roster positions.
Add in the fact that, barring injury, 40 to 45 of the positions are set right now. That leaves only a few positions to play around with. The last few names are the ones that can be hardest to determine. Some may make it through to the practice squad - but, as what happened to Bill Nagy proves, you can lose those players to another team when you least expect it.
This is an attempt to build the roster and figure out how to allot the "extra" slots all at once. It is not so much different from what anyone does with the roster, as it is more broken out into the steps it takes to come to decisions. Along the way, I am also going to discuss the team top to bottom, and try to kind of fold all this together into a coherent whole.
See what you think after the jump.
For each position, I have a minimum number of players I think the team will carry, and a maximum. I also have the names of those players I think are definitely on the team. Sometimes, this matches up well, but other times the number don't fit so well. I will explain a bit as I go.
Quarterback 2 - 3
Locks: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton
The consensus seems to be building that the team will not carry a third QB, but will want to put Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad as an emergency player who could be called up. As I said, that works until some other team signs him away. It may not seem to make sense now - but I have no idea what the Detroit Lions plan to do with an injured Nagy, either.
Running Back 3 - 4
Locks: DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones
Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett both have insisted that Felix's roster spot is safe. I will take them at their word. That leaves one required position, the third running back, open. The only question is if Phillip Tanner will reclaim it, or if maybe Jamize Olawale has performed well enough to challeng him.
Lock: Lawrence Vickers
If only all the postions were this easy.
Tight End 3
Locks: Jason Witten, John Phillips, James Hanna
I may be stretching it just a little bit to say Hanna has it locked up, but based on his recent performance, I don't think it is much of a stretch. He will not lose a spot to anyone currently on the roster, but could be replaced by a veteran from another team.
Wide Receiver 5 - 6
Locks: Dez Bryant, Miles Austin
I don't have to go into detail here. I think the team is leaning towards a few names, and will have a good idea how this works out after the St Louis Rams game, but the last name decided on may be in this group. It is that close.
Offensive Line 8 - 10
Locks: Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, David Arkin, Ronald Leary
I have not seen anyone who thinks the Cowboys will carry less than nine offensive linemen, but NFL teams have gone into the season with only eight on the roster. And I would point out a little symmetry here. The minimum number also corresponds with the number of actual or potential NFL offensive linemen I can see in camp right now. Pat McQuistan is iffy at best, and I think the Derrick Dockery/Daniel Loper signings have been verified as camp bodies only.
Harland Gunn might be a possible practice squad player who could be developed and held for emergency use. He probably has a good chance of getting through waivers.
Defensive Line 6 - 7
Locks: Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, Tyrone Crawford
You may be wondering just what I am thinking with only four names here. Obviously, the team will keep two or three more linemen. However, take the other names involved: Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, Josh Brent, Robert Callaway, Clifton Geathers, Ben Bass. Now, tell me exactly which two or three of those players you have as locks. Based on the reports I have read so far, there may not be a really wrong answer here. The talent level top to bottom here is not that widely spread. Given the four guys that are set, that is a good thing.
Inside Linebacker 4 - 5
Locks: Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Dan Connor
This is one of those places the interplay between positons gets very involved. Alex Albright is able to play both inside and outside. Does that make him more valuable than Orie Lemon, who might have a slight edge when you look just at inside 'backers. Can you afford both?
Outside Linebacker 4 - 5
Locks: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler
I really am tempted to put Adrain Hamilton's name up there, but that is my opinion, and may not reflect that of real live Dallas Cowboys coaches and mangement. Add in Kyle Wilber, who does represent the investment of a draft pick, but is missing time with an injury that will keep him out until after the season starts, and things just get a bit sticky.
Cornerbacks 4 - 6
Locks: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick
Mario Butler is getting very close to being a lock himself. While the high end (six) may seem a bit much, it would be a likely option if something happened and the team only had four viable safeties to go into the seaon. (See where my mind was in the intro?)
Safeties 4 - 5
Locks: Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church, Matt Johnson, Danny McCray
Mana Silva has made a late charge, but unless Johnson really falls on his face (and indications so far are that he is not likely to), I don't think there is much chance here for him, unless the team goes with five.
Locks: Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P LaDouceur
Even if the team brings in a punter, or keeps Charley Hughlett as a cheaper option at long snapper (which would be, frankly, stupid in my opinion), the numbers don't change. The days of kickoff specialists are long behind us.
Several weeks ago, I did a similar exercise to figure out how to allocate the roster spots. I came up with a minimum allocation for the roster spots and shown in the following chart (with one modification, I have upped the minimum for tight ends to three).
Here is how I would allocate the "extra" spots for the roster, and how I would use them.
- The wide receivers would add Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Danny Coale, and either Cole Beasley or a free agent pickup.
- O line would add a free agent for depth. A swing player who could fill in at tackle or guard would be ideal, with a C/G as the next choice.
- D line would just be the best three of the names I listed above.
- ILB and OLB would add Hamilton, Wilber, Lemon and Albright. This was a tough call, since the team could also drop Lemon or Wilber in favor of Albright, and save one position that would be used to keep Olawale as a fourth running back (assuming Tanner hangs on to the number three spot). To me, that would be the last decision to figure out number 53 on the roster.
- CB would add Mario Butler.
The practice squad, in addition to Carpenter, would add Lionel Smith, Gunn, Lance Dunbar, Silva, an offensive lineman from another team's cuts, and Olawale. An additional option could be Ben Bass if he does not make the final roster. I do worry about those names all making it through waivers, but that is the risk of trying to hide players on the PS.
That is my approach to figuring out the final 53, based on what we know now. On August 31, we will find out what Jason Garrett and company actually wind up doing.