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Cowboys Roster Breakdown: Where Is An Upgrade Still Needed?

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Let’s take a look at the roster and determine where the Cowboys might be looking to enhance their depth.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys front office claims that improving the football team is a 365 day a year job and that they are always looking for ways to make the team better. So as we sit here post free agency, post draft, and with a bucket full of undrafted free agents signed, all the candidates appear to be in place for the Cowboys roster and now it’s just a matter of choosing who makes the team.

However, the Cowboys might not be done shopping just yet.

On Friday, the Cool One asked the BTB community - how many new players will make the roster? In his article, he stated that last year’s new toys consisted of:

  • 7 draft picks
  • 4 free agents
  • 3 free agents acquired after June 1st

If last year serves as any indication, the Cowboys could still be on the prowl for one or two...or even three new players. What is even more interesting is that Tony Romo’s cap savings goes into effect after June 1st so the team will have more money to work with to sign players. Is that something the Cowboys would be interested in doing? Well, Stephen Jones recently expressed that the extra cap space frees them up to sign a veteran or make a trade if that is what was needed.

“I will say this, we’re not strapped to the point where we couldn’t do something. You never know when a trade might pop up.”

A trade, you say? Could the Cowboys be combing through the roster of other teams looking for a player that could help out? Or the Cowboys could stick to how they have typically done and peruse through the bargain bin of free agents who have yet to find a home and make a cheap signing. Either of these options are possibilities and it’s highly likely that the Cowboys are going to do something more to add to their roster. But before we start making guesses as to which players they might be, let’s do a quick examination of the roster to see what position needs the most help.

If the Cowboys are in need of a starter, then a trade might be in order.

If they need depth, look for a cheap signing to expand the competition at the position.

Okay, let’s do this.

QUARTERBACK

The Cowboys have their new franchise quarterback. Dak Prescott is locked and loaded for an encore performance to his historic rookie season. After that however, it’s hazy. While the team likes Kellen Moore, the fans don’t. The Cowboys have a couple undrafted free agents fighting for a spot, but these players are development projects at best. The Cowboys know the importance of having a competent QB behind center and could look to add a more capable passer behind Prescott.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Fair. The team will always be looking to keep their number two spot sharp, but it might not come with a great sense of urgency if their real number two is just a phone call away.

RUNNING BACK

The Cowboys have three running backs on their roster who have each rushed for 1,000 yards at some point over the last three seasons. That’s a pretty deep group. And the leader of that group is arguably the best running back in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott was last year’s rushing champ and the kid is just getting started.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. The team may tweak the bottom of the depth chart a bit, but don’t expect anyone notable coming in at this position.

Bold Prediction: Not having Lance Dunbar may seem like a hole, but with such limited touches, it’s not worth taking up a roster spot. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys take advantage of Ryan Switzer’s running back skills on a few package plays this year. He could sneak in some Danny Woodhead type value for the offense this season. That might seem crazy, but Scott Linehan is pretty creative and knows how to use his weapons.

WIDE RECEIVER

The Cowboys had a strong receiving group last year and are even better entering this season. The upgrade of Switzer over Lucky Whitehead is the most obvious improvement, but even Brice Butler’s job isn’t safe with a couple young prospects eyeballing his roster spot.

Likeliness of an upgrade: No chance. The Cowboys already have all their pieces. They just have to sort out where they want them to go.

TIGHT END

When you have the ageless Jason Witten taking up a lot of your snaps, you’re sitting in good shape at the position. The Cowboys rely on their bench tight ends to come in and block so the need for a player like Geoff Swaim or James Hanna is important. Rico Gathers is the future, but his contribution in the running game won’t be anything significant in the present.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Fair. It really comes down to the health of Swaim and Hanna. Don’t be surprised if Dallas poaches a solid blocking tight end from another team or quietly signs a free agent. They did a similar thing when they signed Dante Rosario a few years ago.

TACKLE

The Cowboys will have a new starting right tackle season, however it is not clear who that player will be. If the La’el Collins experiment works out, then the Cowboys may end up with the best starting tackle tandem in the league. If he doesn’t, then the team can still call upon Chaz Green or Byron Bell to be serviceable at the position.

Dallas could end up with their starting tackles being first-round talents and their swing tackle being a third-round pick. While Doug Free’s contributions aren’t always fully appreciated, nobody will be missing him this year.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. There are still question marks at the tackle position, but all the answers lie somewhere on the current roster.

GUARD

Everyone talks up the Cowboys offensive line and rightfully so, but the 2017 season could see this position group contain two new starters. Right tackle is definitely one, but if Collins moves there, then his guard spot is now vacated. New free agents Jonathan Cooper and Bell join Joe Looney as the prime candidates for the starting spot.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. Just with the tackle position, there are questions that need to be answered, but they will be resolved in-house without having to seek out additional help.

Super Bold Prediction: Undrafted free agent Nate Theaker or Dan Skipper will see action at guard at some point this season. Why will this happen? Two reasons - Cooper, who is the front runner for the starting left guard spot has trouble staying healthy and one of these sleeper UDFA will impress enough to earn a roster as the backup guard. Put those two together and you got a young kid getting snaps.

CENTER

Travis Frederick is awesome and he’s extremely reliable. Guard “Jumbo” Joe Looney has position flex to handle the backup center spot if needed. Looney was an effective piece to the line to the point where Linehan would resort to using him in the Jumbo package with six offensive linemen to block in short yardage situations.

Likeliness of an upgrade: No chance. The Cowboys already have everything they need at the center position.

DEFENSIVE END

While this position always seems to stir up the most concern, there will be a lot of excitement about the potential of this group. The team has two new players to watch in Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper. And then there’s that David Irving fella who might see some time along the edge. DeMarcus Lawrence and Benson Mayowa could be reduced to bench roles versus having to rely on them as starters like the team did last year.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. The Cowboys have too many players fighting for playing time as it is. Anyone else added would just have to get in the back of the line. If the Cowboys were going to add a bigger impact player at this position, they would have done it already.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

You ask two things from this position. First, you absorb the front line blocks and second, you get some pressure up the middle. The Cowboys have managed to do both successfully thanks largely tothe up-and-coming youngster Maliek Collins. Absorbing the blows have allowed linebackers like Sean Lee to get a free shot to run down ball carriers. With Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton, and the possible return of Tyrone Crawford, the Cowboys interior line is in great shape.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. Again, the team already has plenty of bodies. Any move that is less than spectacular would just be redundant at this point.

LINEBACKER

Jaylon Smith’s health will play a large role in the state of the Cowboys linebacker group. And for the last several years, I could make that very same statement, only insert Sean Lee’s name instead. Clearly, having these two star caliber players on the field is instrumental for the defense. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are a couple former fourth-rounders hoping to emerge as something more than just bench players or special teams bodies.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Fair. A veteran presence added to the mix could help shore up the depth.

CORNERBACK

If you listed the Cowboys top fiver corners who are likely to make the team, most everyone is going to come up with the same list. Strangely, that list wouldn’t include a single player who played a snap for the Cowboys in 2015. Instead, you’d have two rookies in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, second-year player Anthony Brown, free agent Nolan Carroll, and Orlando Scandrick, who missed the entire 2015 season with a knee injury he suffered on the last day of OTA’s.

This group brings about questions, but there are a lot of reasons to feel good about what the Cowboys have. Scandrick will be a lot healthier and as last season progressed, he started resembling his old self. Brown had a great rookie year, but many question how he’ll be able to handle a starting role. Well, don’t worry too much because he started 10 games last year when Scandrick and Morris Claiborne were out with injuries. And he did just fine. Even though rookie corners will have their growing pains, this is a position where it is not uncommon that first-year players step in and immediately contribute. Both Awuzie and Lewis are talented players and won’t be running around in the secondary like chickens with their heads cut off. Expect good play from at least one of these guys. Despite fans not being too high on Carroll, the Cowboys could do a lot worse for depth.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Slim. There isn’t much room to improve the bottom of the depth chart. Seventh-round pick Marquez White could push for a roster spot, but it will most likely come at the expense of retaining a sixth corner versus bouncing one of those first five guys.

SAFETY

Byron Jones is the starting free safety and that is pretty much all we know. Everything else will be determined on the field over the next three months. Will fan favorite Jeff Heath finally get his chance? Or will rookie Xavier Woods learn what he needs to know quick enough to land the job? These three will be on the roster, but after that it’s really tough to say. Second-year player Kavon Fraizer and veteran free agent Robert Blanton are two players that could sneak in at the bottom, but it wouldn’t take much to find a player that could jump in and replace them.

Likeliness of an upgrade: Good. Some of us are pulling hard for former QB Jameill Showers to break out as a quality safety option, but that might be wishful thinking. This is the weakest spot on the Cowboys roster and look for them to do more shuffling before it’s over.


Conclusion

Last year, three players were added after June 1st and made the team - LB Justin Durant, QB Mark Sanchez, and CB Dax Swanson. Based on the depth of the current roster, there are four positions that could still use some help (quarterback, tight end, linebacker, safety). While safety looks to be the biggest candidate to get an upgrade, don’t be surprised if an unknown sneaks on the roster at these other positions.

Which position(s) do you think will have a post-June 1st acquisition make the 53-man roster?