One of the main points of emphasis for the Cowboys under Jason Garrett has been competition, as my colleague Rabblerousr recently pointed out.
Jason Garrett wants the Cowboys to have competition throughout the roster. And, as we know, competition for the final spot tends to push upward, as the third-stringers push the number two guys, who keep the burner on under the starters' backsides.
The Cowboys currently have 13 players on their roster that were brought in as free agents and added nine players to their Reserve/Future squad earlier in the year. Add eight draft picks and a small army of college free agents and the Cowboys should have lots of competition at every position.
But do they really?
Obviously, not every college free agent or rookie brought in will compete for a starting job right away. And just as obviously, not every returning starter will have to compete for his starting job. But Garrett's emphasis on competition got me thinking: Are there positions or position groups where the Cowboys don't currently have serious competition?
I believe there are at least three positions where the competition is either soft or for a backup spot at best.
Safety: Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are the incumbent starters, and there really isn't much competition for them. There's a theoretical chance that Byron Jones could move to free safety, but that would pre-suppose a minor miracle at the cornerback position that I think isn't very likely.
The Cowboys have Jeff Heath and Danny McCray as backups. Both have seen extended playing time at safety (McCray had 658 snaps in 2012, Heath had 613 in 2013), but neither proved to be a long-term option at the position, though both are expected to be core special teamers.
Keelan Johnson, who last played in the league briefly in 2013 for the Eagles, as well as Ray Vinopal, an undrafted free agent, complete the very thin depth chart at safety. There is some hope that an improved pass rush and better play at the corner position will automatically result in better play at safety. But that doesn't change the fact that barring injury, Church and Wilcox will likely go through camp largely unchallenged.
Wide receiver: Over the years, we've gotten used to the idea that the Cowboys carry at least five, often six, wide receivers on their roster (see table at the bottom of the post). And we've gotten used to where those five or six players would battle for their spots with each other and with veteran free agent and UDFA wide receivers. Heck, at one point even Dez Bryant wasn't guaranteed the number one spot. That looks to have changed this year.
Very few wide receivers in the league could challenge Bryant for the number one spot, and certainly nobody on the Cowboys roster will. And Cole Beasley has carved out his little niche in the slot where he's not going to face any real challenge for his spot. That leaves Terrance Williams and Devin Street to duke it out for the number two spot, so there's at least some competition among the veterans. The five UDFA wide receivers will likely fight very hard for the fifth wide receiver spot.
Don't be surprised if the Cowboys bring in a veteran receiver, even if they have to wait until final roster cuts end August to get their guy.
Tight Ends: In three out of the last four years, the Cowboys started the season with four tight ends. Nobody is challenging Jason Witten for playing time. Gavin Escobar and James Hanna will have to be content to divide up the remaining TE snaps, and no rookie is going to change that. So the top three spots are probably set, though there's an outside chance the Cowboys could keep a fourth guy, but that guy's battle will likely be with a fullback for the final spot on offense.
This will be the third straight year that the Cowboys enter the season with Witten, Escobar and Hanna as their top three guys, and while continuity is always nice, the Cowboys may not be overly happy with a situation that has remained largely static. Of course, Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett can tell you all sorts of stories of what it feels like to play behind Jason Witten, but if Escobar and Hanna don't manage to command more playing time, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys make some changes at the position after the season, and perhaps even before.
Where do you see the team not having enough competition?
As you wonder about depth and competition, it's always helpful to keep in mind how previous Cowboys 53-man rosters were split by position by position. Here are the numbers from the opening-day rosters of the last nine years as documented in the NFL game books.
||- -||1||- -||2||1||1||2||1|
|of which: CB||4||4||5||5||3||4||7||5||5|
|of which: S||4||5||5||4||6||5||4||5||4|