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Cowboys Talent Acquisition Will Continue Beyond NFL Draft - 23 Open Roster Spots Left To Fill

The talent acquisition process does not end with the draft, and the Cowboys will be looking at college free agents to fill their remaining roster spots, something they have done quite well in the past.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys currently have 71 players on their roster, a number that includes the free agents signed in free agency so far, but excludes all Cowboys free agents who haven't signed anywhere yet. Those 71 spots are made up as follows:

45 - Players returning from 2016 (including the six players the Cowboys re-signed)
17 - Players signed to Reserve/Future contracts
5 - Players acquired as free agents so far this year
4 - Players on Reserve/Injured or Reserve/Suspended lists

The four players on IR or suspended (James Hanna, Josh Thomas, Randy Gregory, Rolando McClain) don't currently count against the 90-man offseason roster limit. As of today, that leaves the Cowboys with 23 open spots on their offseason roster.

That number is obviously going to change over the coming days and weeks. At some point between now and when the universe collapses into a dimensionless singularity, Tony Romo will not be on the roster anymore. Also, James Hanna may get activated from IR, the Cowboys might sign some more free agents, or they might bring back more of their free agents like Andrew Gachkar or Justin Durant, or they might release additional players. But for now, they have 23 open roster spots.

The Cowboys have seven picks in the NFL draft, which should reduce the number of open roster spots to around 16, barring further signings or releases. This leaves ample room to bring in college free agents and other possible additions to the team.

If you're an undrafted free agent (UDFA) who didn't get selected in the draft, one of the better teams to sign with are the Dallas Cowboys. Everybody know how the Cowboys developed UDFAs like Tony Romo and Miles Austin into NFL millionaires, but there are many more UDFAs on the roster in Dallas.

Last year, the Cowboys counted nine former UDFAs among their starters: Barry Church (12), Ronald Leary (12), Cole Beasley (6), Benson Mayowa (6), La'el Collins (3), David Irving (2), Lucky Whitehead (1), Keith Smith, and Emmett Cleary (1) all started at least one game. Ten more UDFAs (Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur, Tony Romo, Cedric Thornton, Jeff Heath, Rod Smith, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Davis, Richard Ash) all saw playing time.

That's quite a list, but it doesn't stop there. Former Cowboys like Danny Amendola and Matt Moore found their fortune with other teams after signing their first NFL contract as an UDFA with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have historically taken on board more UDFAs than many other teams, and have been quite successful in developing these UDFAs.

Last year, the Cowboys signed 15 rookie UDFAs by the end of May. Three of them are still with the Cowboys (Andy Jones, Zach Wood, Jeremiah McKinnon) and six more are currently on the roster of another NFL team. That's a pretty impressive percentage. Here's an overview of last year's UDFA class:

Player POS NFL Team 2016 2017 Status
Andy Jones WR Cowboys Cowboys
Zach Wood
DE - -
Jeremiah McKinnon CB - - Cowboys
Jake Brendel C Dolphins Dolphins 2017 offseason roster
Chris Brown WR Cowboys Bengals 2017 offseason roster
Rodney Coe* DT Jaguars Seahawks 2017 offseason roster
Deon King* LB Chargers/Colts Colts 2017 offseason roster
Austin Traylor TE Chargers/Patriots/Ravens Colts 2017 offseason roster
Rolan Milligan SS - - Lions 2017 offseason roster
Ed Eagan WR Bills - -
David Hedelin OT - - Limhamn Griffins, Sweden
Arjen Colquhoun CB - - - -
Ryan Mack OT - - - -
Jason Neill DT - - - -
Boston Stiverson OG - - - -

The Cowboys' success with college free agents is more than simple luck. It's a result of being more selective in their talent evaluations, as Stephen Jones explained a while back:

"We used to put 250 players on the board, however many get drafted. Now we put about 100, 120 players on our board, and they're just the players we want," pro personnel director Stephen Jones said.

"We don't think about, 'That guy is going to get drafted,' so we put him on our board. If he doesn't fit what we want, even though he may get drafted in the first or second round, we don't put him up there. It keeps us focused not only all the way through the draft, but also through college free agency."

"He may not fit from a scheme standpoint or from a cultural standpoint or a character standpoint, and those guys, we don't want them on our football team. So let's focus on guys that we do like. I think that's the biggest change is the philosophy there -- let's go after Dallas Cowboys."

"And pretty much every time we sign those 15 to 20 [UDFA] guys, we sign them from our draft board. I think that's why we've had some really good success with players who weren't drafted."

Part of the process is also that the Cowboys don't "come off grade" after the draft. If they have a grade on a prospect before the draft, they stick with the grade after the draft, which means the Cowboys' number one priority after the draft is to try and sign every prospect still left on their draft board. After all, getting more players with a draftable grade onto your team is bound to improve the quality of your team.

This year, the Cowboys hold three selections in the bottom 50 picks of the draft. If they are lucky, they'll find players with those picks that dropped a round or two below where they were graded (Anthony Brown and Kavon Frazier both had fourth-round grades on the Cowboys board and were drafted in the sixth round). If not, they'll use those late picks to select players for which they might otherwise have to for with other teams in college free agency (Rico Gathers last year was such a player).

In any case, the Cowboys' talent acquisition will not end with the draft. In fact, the process of calling potential UDFAs begins while the draft is still going on. And if the last few years are any indication, the Cowboys will find some good ones.

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