We will end the minicamp in a couple of weeks with some impressions of how players vying for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster are doing. But those are merely hints. OTAs and the minicamp are really more about teaching and scheme/play installation. Player evaluation is secondary, although it is certainly going on. The real decisions on who will make the 53-man roster and the practice squad to start the season will start being made after training camp opens in Oxnard.
Despite Jason Garrett's philosophy of having maximum competition up and down the roster, we all know that the reality is that certain players have a lock on their position. It is driven by talent and influenced by cap hits. In order to start trying to figure out who has a chance to earn a spot, you first have to figure out who just has to stay healthy to be there for the opening kickoff.
This is of course speculative and opinion driven, but it is a slow time for news (and going to get a lot slower midway through the month). I have been mulling this over, and thought I would share my view of things.
For the purposes of this little exercise, the "locks" are broken into two types, hard locks that there is no doubt about, and soft locks that are almost certain to make the team barring some very unexpected developments. Again this is just one writer's opinion, so feel free to dispute and debate in the comments.
Hard lock: Tony Romo
Soft lock: Dustin Vaughan
Romo is obvious, but Vaughan is based more on what the team probably wants to have happen than anything else. There are some signs that the team really wants him to continue developing and hopes to at least make him into a number two QB. Although the odds are a bit long that he could supplant Brandon Weeden this year, I think the team would be willing to part with the veteran before they let go of Vaughan. If Weeden does keep his job, then the team will likely keep three quarterbacks this season. Only Weeden is really in jeopardy of losing his job should Vaughan break through in pre-season.
Hard locks: None
Soft locks: None
There are absolutely no guarantees for this group. Any of them, and that includes UDFA Synjyn Days and the fullbacks, could wind up making the roster or wind up on the street (or in Days' case, the team would possibly try to get him to the practice squad). Bob Sturm has cast some doubts on the idea that Lance Dunbar is safe as the change of pace back, finding his skill set a little too limited and likely to make playcalling too predictable when he is on the field. For all the rest, it is pretty wide open, although the fullbacks are really at risk to be gone.
Hard locks: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
Soft locks: None
The Senator is obvious, and Escobar's second-round status makes it almost certain he will not be cut. The competition for the third TE is probably very open, and there is only a slim chance that the team could opt to keep four.
Hard locks: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
Soft lock: Devin Street
Outside those four, the fifth wide receiver is wide open and will likely hang on returner/special teams value.
Hard locks: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, La'el Collins
Soft lock: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Chaz Green
I looked at this group in my earlier post on how Collins was a luxury acquisition for Dallas. There is a good chance that this is the eight linemen that the team goes into 2015 with, but there is always a slight chance that someone will really blossom and push Bernadeau and/or Green off the roster. Green's third round selection probably protects him, however.
Hard locks: DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincey, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford
Soft locks: Greg Hardy, Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain
Hardy is not a hard lock because there is always the concern he could make another mistake and get booted for good. He also is not going to be part of the initial 53 due to his suspension. Hayden has a lot of respect from the coaches and McClain is very probable, but the battles among this group are going to be fierce and, again, there is always the chance of players catching fire and pushing someone off the roster. The team may well go deep here and carry nine or even ten rushmen, so there is opportunity for the several players trying to make the team.
Hard locks: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Soft lock: Rolando McClain
McClain would have been a hard lock if not for missing the OTAs, but that again raises some doubts about his motivation to practice and put in the work the Cowboys expect of everyone. Outside that, there are lots of candidates for the remaining spots, but it will take a lot of work to sort them out.
Hard locks: Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Byron Jones, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox
Soft lock: Morris Claiborne
A lot of people may want to take issue with Claiborne being any kind of lock at all, but the team is unlikely to give up on the player they spent so much draft capital on unless the are absolutely forced to. That leaves probably two or perhaps three spots open for grabs.
Hard locks: Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur
Soft lock: Chris Jones
Many out there want Jones to get beat out because they think he is a mediocre punter, but two things argue for his retention. First, he is Bailey's holder. And second, this offense doesn't plan to have to punt the ball away all that often.
There you have my estimate of the situation. There are 25 players here that look certain to make the team, with 10 more that are close. This still leaves a minimum of 19 jobs that are open to fill (including a placeholder for the suspended Hardy), and possibly more if some of the "soft" locks fall short in camp or just get clearly beaten out. There is a lot to look forward to when the team gets to Oxnard.
Now, it's your turn. I'm sure many of you can find some holes in my logic, so let me know where you think I went wrong.