In March, we tried to predict which free-agents would be joining the Cowboys. In April, we took a shot at guessing which players would be drafted. The only thing left – guessing the 53-man roster.
In a few short days, training camp will be underway. There are many different battles going on as bubble players try to work their way onto the Cowboys roster. There are many schools of thought as to where the last roster spots will go, but one thing to give strong consideration towards is how the team has distributed those positions in the past. Looking at the Jason Garrett era, here is what history has shown us:
QUARTERBACKS: 2 or 3?
In recent years, the Cowboys have bounced back and forth between keeping two or three quarterbacks.
A viable backup is a must, but a young, developing QB isn’t. It depends if they have one they feel they can groom for the future. In 2016, they have one in Dak Prescott so it looks like they are in line to keep a third quarterback. Now, if Prescott somehow jumps Moore in training camp, then you could make a case for letting Moore go and just keeping two. But the coaches seem to like what they have in Kellen so it seems unlikely that they’d cut him loose. And after last year’s disaster at the backup QB position, it’s better to have more options available.
Jameil Showers will continue to be a fan favorite as he makes plays in the fourth quarter of preseason games. But he’ll make mistakes, too. And when you’re making mistakes against fourth-stringers, it’s not a good thing.
Prediction: Keeping three, and it’s pretty obvious which three those are.
RUNNING BACKS: 3 or 4?
The team has been shuffling back between three and four running backs.
The dictating factor appears to be how much confidence they have in their top two guys. When DeMarco Murray jumped Felix Jones on the depth chart in 2012, they were pretty set with both those guys as they had two potential lead backs. They also felt strong with the Murray and Joseph Randle tandem in 2014. In those instances, they rolled with just three RBs. When they lose a key RB in the offseason, they’ll be more cautious and go with four. And Lance Dunbar has been the one constant over the last few years as the team feels he is a solid receiving back to give the offense another dynamic.
So what does that mean for 2016?
With the fourth-overall selection of Ezekiel Elliott and free agent signing of Alfred Morris, the Cowboys are stacked at the top and have met the requirements for keeping just three RBs. But neither of these players have logged a single down for the Cowboys so would this count as some level of unknown?
Then, there’s Darren McFadden - the Cowboys 2015 leading rusher. The team could go with these three and be very stout at the position. Seems like a relatively easy call. But this decision may turn out to be quite difficult for a couple of reasons. First off, the team also has Lance Dunbar and another rookie, Darius Jackson, vying for a roster spot. If the coaches feel like either could offer the offense something meaningful, they could decide to go with four at the position. But why do that? You can make an argument that if the Cowboys suffer a wave of injuries at the position, having serviceable running back in your back pocket would prove valuable. But it seems a little overprotective to keep an extra running back on the roster for such a circumstance. The Cowboys certainly are deep, but that’s not a reason to hoard running backs. If the team can get the job done with three (like they’ve proven in the past), then why not use your roster for other, more shaky positions?
Of course, if you’re thinking McFadden’s job might be in question, it might be safer than you think because he’s a great locker room guy and the coaches love him. As Birddog and I discussed a couple days ago, the idea of parting ways with DMC might be something people should give up on.
I will not release DMC. You can pry him from my cold dead hands. Garrett said the same thing in a meeting https://t.co/fQGTjK4e0m— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) July 23, 2016
Prediction: They’ll have five roster-worthy candidates when Dunbar returns. While they’ll only need three, they’ll compromise and keep four of them. Despite the overwhelming support of McFadden, I’m not sold on the idea. If Darius Jackson shows he can play at a comparable level to McFadden, he’s got to be the one they keep. Fresh legs, fresh contract, and super thrifty – how do you not go that route?
WIDE RECEIVERS: 5 or 6?
Each year it’s tempting to pencil in a sixth wide receiver because there’s always some WR that has caught people’s attention in training camp. After all, the team has held on to six receivers before.
This season, expect more of the same this season. Players like Chris Brown and Andy Jones will be leading the charge this year. If you look at 2011 and 2012 when they kept six, the team had question marks at the position. In 2016, they are much stronger. The acquisition of Brice Butler strengthens the bottom of this position group.
Prediction: Five. The Cowboys simply don’t have a need. If an UDFA steps up and proves he is worth retaining, it’s going to come at the expense of another receiver.
TIGHT ENDS/FULLBACK: 4 or 5?
These positions get grouped together in this offense. In fact, John Phillips played both positions in 2011. Dallas is very committed in loading up on blockers and will not skimp in this area. They even expanded to five last season by keeping a fourth tight end and a fullback.
The formula should be the same, but the names might look a bit different. Rod Smith will replace Tyler Clutts at fullback. Geoff Swaim will get another shot due to his blocking ability. With Gavin Escobar still ailing from a torn Achilles, it should open a spot for another tight end to sneak on the roster. While Rico Gathers is a fan favorite, look for UDFA Austin Traylor to fight for a spot. Fundamentals, specifically effectiveness in run blocking, will loom large for these young players.
Prediction: Five. Swaim is a lock to begin the season with the rookies battling it out for the placeholder until Escobar returns. If either of them is able to take advantage of their opportunity, then Swaim better not get too comfortable.
This one is easy. The Cowboys will keep Travis Frederick and one more interior lineman who is capable of playing center.
Mackenzy Bernadeau has held this job for the last few years, but he’s gone now. Free agent Joe Looney and UDFA Jake Brendel will be fighting for the backup spot.
Prediction: It’s going to be two and my money is on the kid.
GUARDS: 3 or 4
With a backup center already a reserve guard, the remaining spots only come down to a few guys.
The Cowboys are locked down with this group as it will be the same trio as last year, only Ron Leary is now the backup. It would take a trade to open up a spot as there isn’t anyone on the current roster that poses any type of threat to Leary.
Prediction: Three. And we all know which three they are.
TACKLES: 3 or 4?
The Cowboys typically go with nine offensive lineman and with the interior line pretty solid with five spots, that leaves four available to the tackle position.
Chaz Green and Charles Brown will battle it out for the swing tackle position, but the consolation prize might still be a roster spot. Dallas is stronger on the line than they’ve been in decades so it certainly looks like they could get by with only eight.
Prediction: Four. In week five, the weakest link could get the boot to make room for returning players from suspension, but it will come down to how well these backups perform. If everything goes as planned, the swing tackle winner could replace Free next year so the runner-up would still have value as a future swing tackle.
What positions do you think the Cowboys load up on? Where do they go short?