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Dallas Cowboys Roster: Is The Roster Churning Fast Enough?

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The Cowboys have now had three successive non-winning season, the first such stretch since going 5-11 for three consecutive years from 2000-2002. The question is, are the Cowboys churning their roster fast enough to get back to a winning record?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, BTB's own Joey Ickes and Tom Ryle proposed their Extremely Early Cowboys 53-man Roster Projections. Inspired by their post, I wanted to understand just how much roster churn the Cowboys have undergone in the last two years. Given that the Cowboys have now had three successive non-winning seasons, a good degree of churn is probably to be expected.

To determine the level of churn over the last two years, I looked at the 53-man roster on opening day of the 2011 season against the Jets, and compared it to the current roster. The result: Slightly less than half of the players going into the 2011 season are still under contract with the Cowboys today. 26 players, to be exact. Here's an overview of which players from the 2011 opening day roster are still with the team, grouped into starters and backups according to their role on opening day 2011:

Position and No. of players
Starters Backups
Quarterbacks (3) Tony Romo
Running Backs (4) DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner
Wide Receivers (6) Dez Bryant, Miles Austin Dwayne Harris
Tight Ends (4) Jason Witten
Offensive Linemen (9) Doug Free, Phil Costa, Tyron Smith Kevin Kowalski, Jermey Parnell, David Arkin
Defensive Tackles (7) Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher Sean Lissemore, Josh Brent
OLBs/DEs (3) DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer
Inside Linebackers (4) Sean Lee Alex Albright
Cornerbacks (5) Orlando Scandrick
Safety (4) Danny McCray, Barry Church
Specialists (4) Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur

While a statement like "less than half of the players remain on the roster" sounds like a lot, it's not. In fact, this level of churn is pretty normal across the NFL. Take a look at the NFC East teams. They provide a pretty good cross-section of NFL teams, a recent Super Bowl winner, a playoff participant, a ho-hum team and a bottom-feeding team - the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles respectively. Here's how the four NFC East teams compare:

Players left on 2013 roster from the 2011 opening day roster
Cowboys Giants Eagles Redskins
26 26 25 28

All four teams had roughly the same level of churn. So by itself, the number is not terribly interesting, but it does highlight one particular aspect of the NFL: a continuous roster renewal that's the modus operandi of just about every NFL team.

There are some commentators that would have you believe the Cowboys are in a rebuilding mode. I always scoff at that notion, because if you were to look closely at what is happening with the roster, or if you actually knew what you were talking about, you'd recognize that the roster renewal is intrinsic to the way the NFL operates.

What is perhaps more interesting than looking at the absolute churn number is to look at where the churn on the Cowboys' roster occurred. After completely gutting their roster on the offensive line at the start of the 2011 season, that unit has enjoyed relative stability with six out of nine linemen remaining from 2011. Of course, that will likely change before the final 53-man roster is announced at the start of the season.

Perhaps the biggest churn can be seen in the secondary. Scandrick is penciled in as a starter in the table above because he started in Week 1, 2011 for an injured Terence Newman, but the four primary starters in 2010, Newman, Mike Jenkins, Gerald Sensabaugh and Abe Elam are all gone. Overall, only three of nine defensive backs from 2011 remain on the roster today.

At tight end, the picture has been basically unchanged since 2003: It's Jason Witten plus a handful of random dudes. Perhaps that will change this year with the addition of Gavin Escobar and the further development of James Hanna.

Overall though, while there is significant churn at some positions, the total churn so far looks to be at a fairly normal rate. The question is, are the Cowboys churning their roster fast enough?

Looking over the names in the table above, chances are that not all of them will make it to the 2013 opening day roster. And don't forget, there are seven draft picks, at least 15 college free agents and two free agent signings (so far) who will all be working very hard to get the roster churning even faster.

We'll keep a close eye on how that turns out.