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Dallas Cowboys News: Cowboys Roster Cuts & Waiver Wire Targets

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Today's eclectic collection of headlines includes why the Cowboys could make a run, a look at the difference between the 2014 and 2015 teams, the latest on roster cuts, and standouts from the Houston game.

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Possible Waiver Claim Targets For Dallas During 53-Man Cutdown - Michael Sisemore, Blogging The Boys
NFL teams are making their cuts and Sisemore looks at four possible targets for the Cowboys to claim among the discarded. Here's one of those targets:

QB, Aaron Murray, Chiefs

It's no secret that the Cowboys really liked Murray when he came out of college from Georgia. Sometimes things don't work out when you want them too but that's when second chances come along. Now, we've heard confirmation from Broaddus as to their liking of the third-year quarterback. However, we've also been hearing that the Cowboys would prefer a signal-caller that has done it in live NFL games. So far, Murray hasn't taken any snaps other than preseason exhibition.

He's a veteran in the sense that he's been on an NFL roster for three seasons. With Dak Prescott as the starter at the moment, they may be keen on having a veteran backup with some skins on the wall. All we know is that the Cowboys really like Murray and he's someone to keep an eye on.

Dallas Cowboys Roster Cuts 2016: LB Derek Akunne Is The First To Go; DE Ryan Russell Is Second - Blogging The Boys
The Cowboys traditionally finalize their cut list immediately following the last preseason game; it just takes a while for the names of the cut players to trickle through, and an official announcement usually isn't forthcoming until very close to the roster cut deadline. Derek Akunne and Ryan Russell are the first names to trickle through.

I've had the best time with my brothers and teammates. Dallas Cowboys are gonna do great things this season.

A photo posted by Ryan Russell (@rkrelentless) on

Dallas Cowboys Interactive Roster Builder 2016 - Blogging The Boys
The Cowboys are down to 73 players. Which 20 players would you cut? Check out our interactive roster builder and whittle down the roster from 73 to 53 players, build a practice squad, change players' positions, and try to get under the cap.

For Dallas Cowboys, the hard work starts now that preseason is over - Todd Archer, ESPN
Archer explains what will happen over the next few days in Dallas.

The Cowboys will have to make 18 roster moves by Saturday afternoon to reach the 53-man limit. Some of them will be easy. Others will be hard. Some will be dictated by what other teams do to influence the Cowboys’ decisions.

The Cowboys have some of the same needs after training-camp practices and four preseason games that they had entering the summer. Finding pass-rush help remains at a premium. Finding offensive-tackle help is high on the list. With Romo’s back injury, the Cowboys need to find a veteran backup quarterback, too.

While the roster might be set by Saturday, it won’t be finalized. The Cowboys could choose to put Romo on injured reserve on Sunday, which would knock him out for the first eight weeks of the season. With the fourth spot in the pecking order on the waiver wire, they will have a chance to add players better than what they have on the end of their roster.

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Romo’s text to Avril: 'We will see you in the playoffs' - Clarence Hill, The Star-Telegram
Seattle’s Cliff Avril broke a bone in Tony Romo’s back on a sack during a preseason game, and recently reached out to Tony Romo after he learned that what was initially announced as a non-injury turned out to be a compression fracture.

"I hit him up to see how he was doing and to let him know it wasn't intentional," Avril told the Star-Telegram Friday. "He hit me back saying it was football and it was a freak accident. He started joking and saying ‘You take care of the NFC West and we will see you in the playoffs.’"

'Twitter thugs' wanted to fight Seahawks' Cliff Avril after Tony Romo injury - Steven Gaither, Sporting News
Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril says he was harassed by "Twitter thugs" after his hit on Tony Romo.

"It finally died down the last day or two but it was a good six straight days," Avril said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I got a couple of hundred mentions, people talking reckless. If they see me in the street they are going to fight me. A bunch of Twitter thugs."

For shame.

Stephen Jones optimistic after Cowboys ‘exceed’ preseason expectations - Drew Davison, The Star-Telegram
Jones believes the Cowboys have found quality depth as the regular season approaches.

Outside of the quarterback situation and starting Prescott, Jones believes the Cowboys have good depth throughout their roster. The running back corps is loaded with rookie Ezekiel Elliott to go along with Alfred Morris and change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar returning. And let’s not forget Darren McFadden, who ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards a season ago. The same can be said about the receiving corps with a healthy Dez Bryant. The defensive side is where questions abound, though.

"I will say this – we’ve seen some things in camp that we like from our defensive linemen," Jones said. "I think we’re athletic and I think they’re going to play hard and [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has coached them up and I think we’ll do some good things."

But Jones acknowledged the Cowboys could be active to add players who might get cut from other teams, although don’t expect any massive roster changes over the weekend.

"It’s always a busy time," Jones said. "We’ll get in there and make decisions on the current team and find out about who 50 through 53 and see if we can do better than who those guys are."

The Dallas Cowboys are still good enough to make a run - Luke Kerr-Dineen, USA Today
These guys think the Cowboys have a chance to compete for the Super Bowl this year.

Believing Dallas is going to do well this season requires trusting in two rookies to lead the offense — one of which is a fourth rounder. A dicey proposition, indeed.

It’ll be fun to see two rookies make a run, and with a bit of luck, they’re good enough to actually do it.

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How Tony Romo impacts the standings in Dallas - Daniel Houston, WFAA.com
Stat aficionados listen up: Houston uses expected points data from Pro Football Reference box scores to look at each Cowboys unit’s contribution to the team’s overall performance, and how that changed from 2014 to 2015. Here's what the results look like, expressed in expected wins:

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I won’t say the results were surprising, but seeing the drop-off broken down like this was still stark. The Cowboys’ depleted passing attack in 2015, without Romo or a healthy Dez Bryant for most of the year, accounted for a loss of almost seven wins from 2014. It’s an extraordinary figure, but that appears to be the measure of difference between a passing attack captained by an MVP-caliber player and one guided by below-replacement-level substitutes like Matt Cassel or Kellen Moore.

Cowboys' most important weekend decision: Tony Romo's roster spot - Todd Archer, ESPN
The Cowboys can put Tony Romo on their active roster and hope he heals fast or put him on IR, which would knock him out for the first eight weeks. Archer runs us through the details.

The Cowboys can choose to carry Romo on their active roster hoping he would be able to return closer to the six-week time period, or put him on injured reserve, which would knock him out for the first eight weeks of the season.

To be eligible to return this season, Romo has to be on the roster through Saturday when teams cut down to the 53-man roster limit.

If the Cowboys choose to put him on injured reserve, the earliest he could play would be Nov. 6 against the Cleveland Browns. He would be eligible to practice Oct. 17.

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Rating every head coach's job security entering 2016 season - ESPN Staff
ESPN assesses the job security of each head coach. On a scale of one to five, with five being a hot seat and one being a cold seat, Jason Garrett comes in at a lukewarm three: Not under fire, but not disaster-proof.

Garrett is 40-40 since becoming the Cowboys' full-time head coach, and he has just one playoff appearance. He has attempted to rebuild the Cowboys on the fly and has had some success, but he needs to win and he will have to do it without Tony Romo for a few games. Last season's 4-12 finish can be excused, but Garrett won't be able to use a prolonged Romo absence as the reason why the Cowboys didn't win in 2016. Owner Jerry Jones has been patient with Garrett, but if the Cowboys flounder this season, that patience could run out, even with three years remaining on Garrett's deal.

HOU-DAL grades: Defenses stand out for both Texans, Cowboys
It's become somewhat fashionable among Cowboys fans to complain about the quality of the backup tackles, and has been fashionable for a long time to complain about the pass defense. Good thing then that PFF are not Cowboys fans, as they liked what they saw from the backup tackles and two corners: OTs Bryan Witzmann and Chaz Green, along with CBs Dax Swanson and Anthony Brown received the highest grades on offense and defense respectively.

Strong game for tackles Witzmann and Green

Tackles Bryan Witzmann and Chaz Green both graded well in extended looks, although in different facets. Witzmann was beaten inside for a stop early in the first quarter, but for the rest of the game (48 snaps) didn’t have a single negatively graded play in the run game. He finished the game with several good blocks himself, including at 8:47 of the fourth quarter, taking DE Dan Pettinato inside to open a cutback lane for his rusher, Rod Smith. Conversely, Green fared a bit better in pass protection with zero pressures allowed in 30 pass blocks to Witzmann’s two, and he also finished slightly above-average in the run game, although there wasn’t much of note there, either positively or negatively.

Two cornerbacks have standout performances

There were a number of impressive performances on Dallas’ defense, but the top two came in the secondary. CB Dax Swanson spent 56 of 63 snaps at left outside corner and allowed just one of five targets to be completed for an eight-yard gain, and he got his hand on two of the four incompletions for a pass defensed. The team’s second-highest grade came from Anthony Brown, who spent the bulk of his 68 snaps in the slot, allowing a catch on four of five targets (35 yards). But the fifth was a pick-six at 4:05 of the third, involving an impressive read and break on an out route. He also finished with two stops in run defense and two tackles on special teams.

Dak Prescott Is Not Your Average Week 1 Starting Quarterback - Chase Stuart, 538.com
Stuart looks for some historical context to explain how Dak Prescott, the 135th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, is going to be the Cowboys starting quarterback in week 1. And how Trevor Siemian, a 7th round pick last year who has never seen meaningful action in an NFL game, is going to be the Broncos starter.

In the last 10 years, Russell Wilson (a third-round pick) is the only rookie quarterback to start his team’s opening game despite not being drafted in the first two rounds. Kyle Orton, an early fourth-round pick in 2005, was the last rookie quarterback to start in Week 1 despite not being drafted in the first three rounds. But even that comparison doesn’t quite line up with Prescott, as Orton was the 106th pick in the draft; Prescott was a compensatory draft selection used by Dallas almost a full round of selections later.

This is rarely charted territory in modern history: In the last 30 years, only three rookie quarterbacks drafted outside of the top 100 picks started their team’s season opener: Orton, Chris Weinke in 2001 and Steve Beuerlein in 1988.1 You have to go all the way back to 1977 to find a quarterback not selected in the first 130 picks of the NFL draft who then went on start his team’s season opener as a rookie.

Stephen Jones: Austin Davis still backup QB option for Dallas Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN
The Cowboys brought in QB Austin Davis earlier this week, but couldn't reach a deal in time for the fourth preseason game. Davis remains an option though.

"I think he wants to see what his options are," Stephen Jones said. "Obviously this is a unique situation here. We have a young guy [Prescott] who everybody thinks a lot of and then we also got one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL [Romo] that will be back this year to help us win and compete for a championship. It's a unique situation when a quarterback takes a look at it and tries to figure out where he's going to fit. I'm sure that's what Austin looked at and he's trying to figure out if there might be a better place for him. We certainly can understand that and we'll just go from there."

Vikings GM on QB trade talks: 'People are asking for some crazy things' - Tom Pelissero, USA Today
The Vikings are now in a similar situation to the Cowboys in that they're looking for a veteran QB, so it's interesting that Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman talked about the ridiculous demands other teams are making for quarterbacks, demands that have almost certainly been made of the Cowboys as well.

"I mean people are asking for some crazy things. People think that you are desperate, and we are not going to do something that in my estimation, and talking with Coach Zim (Mike Zimmer) and our ownership, that puts us in a situation where we jeopardize the future of this franchise."

Specifically, Spielman said: "We’re not giving up any of these young, talented players that we have, I can tell you that right now. Us, we work too hard as our coaches and our scouts, to build this thing and to go out and draft guys and develop guys to just give them away for a guy that may come in here and only be here for seven months."

"Someday in my book, you can read about the bizarre things that I’ve been asked to give," Spielman said. "But we’ll just have to wait and see, and maybe those expectations change a little bit more."

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Coaches change strategy with new kickoff rule - Kevin Seifert, ESPN
The perhaps unintended effect of the NFL's kickoff rule change is that teams have experimented with popping up kickoffs so they have more hang time and land in front of the goal line. As a result, the kickoff returns went up this preseason, the opposite of new touchback rule's intent. Say hello to "mortar kicks."

Kickoffs reached the end zone 78.5 of the time during the preseason, which ended Thursday night. That was down from 90 percent in the 2015 preseason and 85 percent in 2014. In turn, the return rate actually increased slightly from 54.9 percent of all kickoffs in 2015 to 57.2 in 2016.

Those numbers reflect a strategy, promised by some coaches during training camp, to use short "mortar" kicks that returners would be forced to field rather than take a touchback. As the theory goes, a good cover team will tackle a returner far short of the 25-yard line, providing the kicking team with a valuable gain in field position.

College football's greatest myth: The home-field advantage - Dirk Chatelain, Omaha World-Herald
Chatelain presents potential reasons for an apparent decline in home field advantage in college football - specifically highlighted in the Big Ten and Big 12. Among the hypotheses for why? More balanced officiating due to instant replay booth reviews starting in 2014.