The Dallas Cowboys start OTAs next week (on the 24th). For the first time, the entire roster (assuming no one decides to take the "voluntary" part too seriously) will get together. Although the real battles for positions won't start until training camp, we as fans are already looking forward to seeing who starts to make a claim on a spot on the 53-man roster. That means we also are looking for some players we think of as being on the "bubble" to begin being pushed out, or at least down the depth chart.
Early as it may be, there are some players from last year's roster who have begun to be favorites, if you will, to lose their jobs. But at this point, we may be jumping the gun just a bit. The Cowboys have already done a good bit of pruning through not re-signing players who entered free agency. Matt Cassel, Tyler Clutts, Greg Hardy, Nick Hayden, Danny McCray, Jeremy Mincey, and Robert Turbin are all gone. Most of them were players who many are quite glad to see leave, while Mincey was just getting too old for a team that has gone with a clear youth movement on the defensive line.
27.— One Cool Customer (@OCC44) May 18, 2016
The age of the oldest Cowboys D-linemen this year (Terrell McLain, Cedric Thornton, Jack Crawford).
As for the rest, all have certain advantages for the staff. They are known quantities, and they know the scheme and the system. New players will have to be more than just equivalent to take their jobs. They will have to prove they are clearly better.
Still, some names are being brought up as players that fans, at least, would like to see gone. Here are four players being mentioned frequently as candidates to be usurped that we may need to tap the brakes on.
Last year's third-round pick, Chaz Green, is already being touted as a challenger for the starting right tackle job. While Free would likely be the first choice to be the swing tackle if that should happen, there is also a very good chance that he could be traded. However, that would come with a $3 million dead money hit, which is something the Cowboys have been working very hard to minimize in the past couple of years.
More pertinent to this is Free's value as the old man of the offensive line. Travis Frederick has only three years of experience. Zack Martin has two, and the incumbent starter at left guard, La'el Collins, has less than a full season as a starter. Free still provides a lot of leadership for the rest of the line, and even more craftiness that he is still able to use. Although overshadowed by the first-round caliber talent that lines up in all the rest of the positions, he still brings veteran stability, and he is hardly a really weak link. He was a solid part of the line that cleared the way for DeMarco Murray's stellar season in 2014. Since that is exactly what the Cowboys are seeking to re-establish with Ezekiel Elliott, Free is going to be very hard for Green to dislodge. The second-year player is closer to a rookie since he saw no action at all last year, and he is really fighting to prove he is a viable swing tackle. That is quite valuable in itself, and on a team as replete with offensive line talent as the Cowboys, it is a good value for a third-rounder.
When Dez Bryant was injured in the season opener last year, everyone looked to Williams to step up and carry the load as the WR1. He did not do so very well. However, with the loss of Tony Romo in the second game, Williams was left with having to catch passes from Brandon Weeden, Cassel, and Kellen Moore, not exactly a group of stellar downfield passers. Williams does have a reputation for inconsistency, but this is a contract year, and he would hardly be the first NFL player to put his absolute best game on the field under those conditions. Many hope that Brice Butler will move ahead of Williams on the depth chart, but Butler has hardly been a model of consistency himself. Outside of Butler, there are just the usual group of UDFAs to challenge at wide receiver. When Romo and Bryant are both on the field, Williams has often shown that he is a dangerous weapon as the WR2, and his experience and what should be an extra level of determination should make him hard to dislodge.
Yes, he is a poor fit for the zone-blocking scheme Dallas primarily wants to run. Yes, he is an aging running back who has a history of injury. Yes, he seems to fall down after even the most minimal contact. But there is a real numbers problem for the Cowboys if you want to see McFadden gone. Ezekiel Elliott is going to be the starter. Alfred Morris is almost certainly going to be his primary backup as a workhorse runner. Lance Dunbar is likely to start camp and the season on PUP, and is a change of pace back. With Rod Smith now concentrating on becoming a fullback, that leaves only McFadden and sixth-round rookie Darius Jackson as options as the third back, which the team has to have for depth. As much talent as Jackson showed in college, he comes from a small school background and the best bet for the team may be to try and get him to the practice squad, where he can learn the pro game and provide a ready injury replacement. Despite all the assertions that any back can thrive behind the Dallas line, that didn't work out so well with Turbin or Christine Michael last season, so the team may not be very sanguine about trying to get another veteran back. McFadden is not only just about the only real option the team has on the roster for the third running back spot, he is likely the best one they are likely to have this year.
If you took a vote, Wilcox is possibly the one player from last year that would "win" as whom most people want to see gone. He is infamous for taking horrendous angles, something that grows from his lack of experience, having only converted to safety his last year in college, and that at a small school. But with the emergence of Byron Jones as the starting free safety, Wilcox would be primarily a backup and special teams contributor, and he has been quite good in the latter role. With Jeff Heath likely making the team as a special teams ace and a decent safety in his own right (not to mention the near-cult status he seems to enjoy), the only real competition for Wilcox is another sixth-round pick, Kavon Frazier. Like Jackson and Wilcox, he is another small school product who has a steep learning curve ahead of him. As a sixth-rounder, and a compensatory pick as well, he is hardly assured of a spot on the roster, and may also be more valuable in the long run as a practice squad player who can be groomed to truly compete with Wilcox in 2017. And Wilcox knows the challenge facing him, and is doing all he can to hang onto his job.
Just because we don't like certain players, it doesn't mean that the coaches feel at all the same way about them. They are much more focused on what they believe players would bring to the field this year than what they have done in the past. And players that have a history with the team are not going to lose their jobs unless there is ample evidence that they should do so.