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What Cowboys 90-Man Roster Numbers Tell Us About Roster Depth And Team Needs

You can learn a lot of things by looking at a team's 90-man offseason roster count, especially when you compare those numbers to other teams in the same division.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

By themselves, the Cowboys roster numbers don't mean all that much. But once you place them next to the numbers of the other NFC East teams, you may be able to learn a lot: Which positions are overrepresented, which positions are underrepresented, and where teams could still be looking for upgrades.

To see if I could glean anything from the Cowboys' 90-man roster and the rosters of the remaining NFC East teams, I tallied the division's offseason rosters by position, using the official team rosters and cross-referencing them with the rosters, as they are usually the most up-to-date rosters available. Here are the numbers:

Team Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends Offensive Linemen Defensive Linemen Linebackers Defensive backs Special Teams Total
DAL 5 7 10 4 15 16 13 15 5 90
NYG 3 8 11 5 16 14 11 18 4 90
PHI 4 6 14 5 16 12 14 15 4 90
WAS 3 7 13 5 14 11 13 18 6 90

The first thing to keep in mind as you compare these numbers is that there is an interdependence between the numbers across positions on each team. If a team has an above average number at one position, the 90-man roster limit dictates that it must have a below average number at another spot. A strong argument can therefore be made that overinvesting in a position is a matter of choice, underinvesting at another may be more a matter of necessity.

The Cowboys, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, have more defensive linemen on their 90-man roster than any other team in the division, and by quite a margin. Last year the Cowboys opened the season with 10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster, so going by these numbers alone, the defensive line is where we'll likely see one of the most heatedly contested roster battles in training camp.

The Cowboys are also carrying an extra quarterback to compensate for Kyle Orton's absence, and have allowed themselves the luxury of carrying an extra long snapper, the only team in the East to do so. Going long at DL, QB and LS means the Cowboys have to go short somewhere else. And the most obvious spot where they are doing that (relative to the other NFC East teams), is at wide receiver and in the secondary. This doesn't come as a complete surprise, as the starters at WR and DB are basically set, and the battles there will be for the backup and depth spots for the most part.

You could argue that the weak spots on each team are the positions where they are overinvesting relative to their divisions rivals, the strong spots are where they are underinvesting versus the NFC East average. The next table illustrates that point by showing how far above or below each team is relative to the NFC East average at the position. The positions at which a team is one player or more above the average are marked in red, the positions where a team is one player or more below the average are marked in green.

Team Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends Offensive Linemen Defensive Linemen Linebackers Defensive backs Special Teams
DAL -1.3 0.5 2.0 0.8 0.3 -2.8 -0.3 1.5 -0.3
NYG 0.8 -1.0 1.0 -0.3 -0.8 -0.8 1.8 -1.5 0.8
PHI -0.3 1.0 -2.0 -0.3 -0.8 1.3 -1.3 1.5 0.8
WAS 0.8 0.5 -1.0 -0.3 1.3 2.3 -0.3 -1.5 -1.3

For the Cowboys, the weak spot is clearly the defensive line and perhaps the QB position, while the positions of strength, at least based on these numbers, are the wide receivers and defensive backs. And while we need to be careful not to infer too much causality from these numbers, these numbers do paint an interesting picture, though a fleeting one.

Obviously, all of these numbers will change during and after training camp. As in previous years, the first roster reduction will happen at 4:00 PM ET on August 26, the Tuesday following preseason Week 3, when rosters will have to be trimmed to 75 players. The final roster reduction to 53 players will have to be completed by 6:00 PM ET on Saturday, August 30, two days after the final preseason games have been played.

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