The first thing that needs to be done to make sense out of anything is to develop an organizational scheme. I've decided to go with a five-point scale, from Tier 1 to Tier 5. Tier 1 players are those that I think have a 100% chance of being with the team in September. Tier 5 players are those whom I believe will be cut (0% chance to stay). Tier 2 players are the players that are very likely to stay, but could also be traded away or beaten out (75% chance to stay). The 3rd Tier denotes the players that are borderline good enough to make the roster (50% chance to stay), while Tier 4 consists of the guys who are most likely going to end up on the practice squad (25% chance to stay).
With the Tier system explained, let's not waste any time. To the roster!
Tier 1: Barry Church, JJ Wilcox
Barry Church is the closest to a 'sure thing' on this roster at safety. He will undoubtedly be with the team in September. JJ Wilcox, on the other hand, is a third round pick and will be kept around based on potential rather than actual ability. There's no way either of these two is shown the door.
Tier 2: Matt Johnson
One more year isn't a lot for Matt Johnson to ask for, but, as an overdrafted 4th-rounder, it isn't quite guaranteed that he'll get it. I still like his odds, and believe he has a better chance to start this year than Wilcox, assuming both remain healthy. The loneliness at the top gives a good indication of how sketchy the safety position is right now.
Tier 3: Will Allen, Danny McCray
Will Allen has a chance to start for this team, but, if he can't start, his value quickly diminishes. He may end up getting the Brodney Pool treatment, though so far it seems he's doing more for the team early than Pool ever did. McCray, on the other hand, won't ever likely be a true starting safety for this team. His value is as a special teams' captain, and that's about as uncertain as a captain's roster spot can get.
Tier 4: Jakar Hamilton, Jeff Heath
Love the potential. Practice squad, please!
Tier 5: Eric Frampton, Micah Pellerin
These guys might end up on the team some day, but I don't think they're here right now as anything more than camp bodies. The time gap in Eric Frampton's service with the Cowboys should tell you they aren't too committed to keeping him around, while Micah Pellerin is the only other safety I haven't heard mentioned so far all offseason.
Tier 1: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, BW Webb
The salary cap police would hang you for cutting any of the first three, while the fourth gets his one-year roster guarantee as a fourth-round pick. It's not until the fifth round that things get questionable with draft picks in their rookie seasons.
Tier 2: --
Tier 3: Sterling Moore
He might just convince the team to keep a fifth corner.
Tier 4: --
Tier 5: Xavier Brewer, Devin Smith, Brandon Underwood
I truly hope that we see some competition during camp that drives some of these guys up into Tier 4.
Tier 1: Sean Lee, Bruce Carter
No questions, here.
Tier 2: Justin Durant
It seems he's really going to stick in his first year, though I once thought that about a certain Dan Connor...
Tier 3: Alex Albright, Ernie Sims, Brandon Magee
These are currently our best three back-up candidates.
Tier 4: DeVonte Holloman, Tank Reed, Caleb McSurdy
Holloman leads this group as a rookie draft pick, right in the range where the practice squad becomes a possibility. Reed might also have potential to jump up a tier during camp.
Tier 5: Deon Lacey, Cameron Lawrence
Tier 1: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff
Aside from these four, no one's path is really set in stone on this defensive line for this season.
Tier 2: Tyrone Crawford
Crawford is the most capable backup on the D Line, and the one I'm most looking forward to watching this year. He could potentially be a beast, but he's also not a player the team couldn't live without, which gets him into Tier 2.
Tier 3: Kyle Wilber, Sean Lissemore, Ben Bass, Nick Hayden
The only player who's clearly trending up here is Ben Bass, who continues to impress all who see him practice. Wilber is a projection as a good fit at defensive end; Lissemore is also a projection, albeit inside. Hayden is here because he's done it before, but not well enough to stick with his old club.
Tier 4: Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Cameron Sheffield, Jerome Long
All three here are names we've heard of from Broaddus' practice reports, and are good candidates for the practice squad or lower-end roster slots.
Tier 5: Josh Brent, Monte Taylor, Jeris Pendleton
Brent, well, we won't go there. The other two are essentially anonymous, and Pendleton's 29 years-old, to boot.
Tier 1: Tony Romo
Tier 2: Kyle Orton
The team's almost as committed to Orton as a backup as they are to Romo as a starter. Too much guaranteed money to see him gone this year.
Tier 3: --
Tier 4: --
Tier 5: Nick Stephens, Dalton Williams
Normally, you'd see one of these guys get a shot at the practice squad. So far, however, both have been so unspectacular that it wouldn't be right to put one in Tier 4 over the other.
Tier 1: DeMarco Murray
Tier 2: Joseph Randle
Randle, as a 5th-round pick, isn't above being cut if the other players show that they are much more capable in the backfield. The early reports on Dunbar and Tanner make me less than certain Randle will make the team, though it's still a good bet.
Tier 3: Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner
These two have shown up in preseason games, and played sparingly in the regular season. Both have re-made their bodies to prepare for this season, and the early reports from practice are good.
Tier 4: Lawrence Vickers, Kendial Lawrence
I can see scenarios in which both of these players find a way to stick to the roster, and thus neither of them is condemned to the lowly fifth tier.
Tier 5: --
Tier 1: Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams
None of these names will hit the waiver wire anytime soon. The only question is whether there are two or three other spots up for grabs.
Tier 2: Dwayne Harris
Of the remaining players, Harris has definitely played to the highest level. I see him as locking up the fourth receiver position, and competing for the third with Terrance Williams.
Tier 3: Cole Beasley, Danny Coale
The Co(a)le duo seem to be the leading candidates for the last one or two receiver positions, but training camp, preseason, and injuries could easily change that.
Tier 4: Anthony Armstrong, Jared Green, Anthony Amos, Tim Benford
There's some potential in this group, but the top of the roster seems too full for any of them to break in without making some serious noise in the preseason. Armstrong is the only one who isn't practice squad eligible, so he may be playing for his career.
Tier 5: Eric Rogers
I couldn't think of anything great to say about him, and that's enough to keep a guy from any chance at a roster spot with this level of competition.
Tier 1: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
A future Hall-of-Famer and your current second-round pick can typically be considered roster locks.
Tier 2: James Hanna
Although probably more skilled than Escobar at this point, and definitely a better deep threat, there are scenarios in which I'd consider trading Hanna, including some where he doesn't show adequate improvement as a blocker.
Tier 3: Dante Rosario
Rosario has a chance to push Lawrence Vickers off the roster, which is a pretty good endorsement considering the Cowboys' past commitment to the fullback position.
Tier 4: Colin Cochart
The only thing that gets CC into Tier 4 is that the team has had him before and liked him enough to pick him up once more.
Tier 5: Andre Smith
Tier 1: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Doug Free
Free's only up here because his re-structured contract makes it financially unsound to part ways with him.
Tier 2: Jermey Parnell, Phil Costa, Ronald Leary
Parnell and Costa have proven themselves to play at a reasonable level, but haven't outright seized starting positions. They're potential trade bait if another team gets hit hard by injuries to the OLine, but out recent experience with injuries of our own may make us hesitant to pull the trigger. Leary, so far, has been impressive, and I see no reason to expect him to not make the roster.
Tier 3: Kevin Kowalski, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Ryan Cook
Kevin Kowalski is the only name here that most of us want to stick, with Ryan Cook being second due to position flex in the inevitable event of an injury. Bernadeau and Livings have always been scabs on a wounded OLine; hopefully the healing's sufficient for the scabs to fall by the wayside.
Tier 4: David Arkin, Edawn Coughman, Darrion Weems
We have our 4th-round project on his last legs, and a pair of UDFA hopefuls. Sad that they're now on similar ground.
Tier 5: JB Shugarts, Ray Dominguez
Only having two guys with no real shot at the roster should bode well for competition in camp.
Tier 1: Dan Bailey, LP LaDouceur
Bailey's, and LP's, lethal accuracy keep them secure in Tier 1. LP's locked up for several years, while Bailey's still on his incredibly cheap rookie deal.
Tier 2: --
Tier 3: Chris Jones, Spencer Benton
This is a battle I'm looking forward to. Benton has a huge leg and is also a viable option on extra-deep field goals, which is the only area in which Bailey struggled. But what if Danny Coale beats them both?
Tier 4: Jackson Anderson
Anderson may be a practice squad candidate to ease the load on the aging Ladouceur. LP's extreme yoga routines, however, may keep him fresh enough to put Anderson back on the street after camp.
Tier 5: --
Now that you've had a look at where I think the players rank, why not try for yourself? The roster builder has been updated to accurately account for 2014 dead money as well as the salaries and penalties for players on PUP, IR and the Practice Squad. Give it a try!
And in case anyone was wondering, if the Cowboys were to cut their entire roster today, they'd be left with $72,327,226 in cap space for this year, but incur $137,575,885 in penalties for 2014.