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Cowboys Offense: Early Projection Of Players Most Likely To Make The 2017 Roster

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Looking at the entire landscape of the Cowboys roster, we examine which players are locked down with roster spots and which players are on the bubble.

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With the draft completed and 14 undrafted free agents signed, the Cowboys have a palette of players at their disposal that will eventually make up the teams 53-man roster. And over the next few months many of us fans will start painting our own portrait of what that masterpiece will look like. So it shouldn’t be surprising to hear armchair GM’s start sharing their wisdom as to which players will and won’t make the roster. While it’s a fun exercise to partake in, sometimes there’s a little silliness that follows. For example, with the slew of defensive linemen the Cowboys now have, some are questioning Tyrone Crawford’s place on the roster. Such a thought shows a disregard of not only Crawford’s ability, but an understanding of money the team still has invested in him.

There are a lot of factors that goes into the roster decisions. For example, the players taken in the earlier rounds of this year’s draft are safe. The Cowboys are certainly going to give their most recent draft investments a good shot to show their worth. Players with enormous long-term contracts like Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are also very safe. And even those cheap players who are already exhibiting great talent like Dak Prescott, surely aren’t going anywhere. All these things are self evident. What is not so obvious is some of the other players closer to the bubble. To get an idea of where each player sits in the hierarchy, we take a look at three factors that will play a meaningful role in their value to the team: talent, age, and cost. Points will be assigned to each player based on where they fall in each category.

TALENT

For this measure, it’s not a top-down ranking for the entire team. That’s quite involved and contains a great deal of subjectivity. Instead, in the spirit of keeping it simple, the following scores will be given to players:

10 = ELITE, Pro Bowl talent players

8 = STRONG, players locked down in starting roles

6 = GOOD, players in key bench roles or who could challenge for a starting spot

4 = FAIR, low ceiling offering no upside

2 = JAG, good enough to be drafted or make a roster, but just another guy

0 = UDFA, unproven players who will be fighting for a roster spot

AGE

There is no question that Jason Garrett has placed on emphasis on bringing in young talent to build his roster. The team just let four veteran defensive backs walk in free agency and replaced them with fresh new draft picks. For age, the following scores will be given to players:

5 = 22 and under

4 = 23-24

3 = 25

2 = 26-27

1 = 28-30

0 = anyone over 30 years old

This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a factor nonetheless. All other things being equal, the advantage goes to the younger player.

COST

Football is a business and money matters. And it matters a lot. For this category, the score is simply the dead money hit the team would take should they release him. All values are rounded to the nearest million. For example, recently re-signed wide receiver Terrance Williams earns a cost score of 10 because he’d be a $9.5 M dead money hit should the Cowboys release him. That’s an important score to have because it is indicative of his security on the roster due to the financial investment the team has made.

So, when you add up the talent, age, and cost you’ll get a total score for each player. A score of 10 or more means that player sitting in good shape and should have enough credit among all the categories to keep him on the roster. Anything less than 10 means they could have some work to do. Let’s take a look at each position and see which players are the most susceptible of not making the roster.

Note: Undrafted free-agents are in blue.

QUARTERBACK

Dak Prescott is the clear starting quarterback and right now Kellen Moore is the best backup the team has. Moore’s score is still low. His cost makes him very expendable. The Cowboys could still look elsewhere to find their backup QB. The team has a couple UDFA’s that could work themselves into development opportunities.

The Cowboys kept three quarterbacks last year (Tony Romo, Prescott, and Jameill Showers), but that could be attributed to having some extra insurance for Romo. With a healthy young kid behind center, Dallas could go back to just two QB’s to open up roster spots elsewhere.

Bottom line: While Moore is currently out in front, the door is certainly open for another QB prospect to swoop in and grab the backup job.

RUNNING BACKS

This story paints a good picture. Ezekiel Elliott is the guy as he scores high in all categories. Anything after that is cloudy. Darren McFadden may appear safe considering he just signed a new deal, however that deal was just a one-year, $980,000 deal with a measly $80,000 signing bonus. The coaches like him so he’s likely to stick around, but anyone after that is fair game. Alfred Morris’ job being in jeopardy has come up a lot, starting all the way back when he was inactive late last season. While he’s a great guy and real cheap, the lack of versatility that he provides puts him on the chopping block.

The team lost Lance Dunbar in free agency so they don’t have a RB for his role on the team. UDFA Jahad Thomas is an excellent receiving back and could be a candidate for Dunbar’s role.

Keith Smith did a great job transitioning into his new role as a fullback and should be in good shape to keep his job.

Bottom line: The Cowboys rolled with only three running backs in 2015 and that’s when it was a shakier situation with Joseph Randle, McFadden, and Dunbar. With Zeke taking up a great majority of the snaps, there isn’t a need to keep four RB’s. Look for there to be a two-man battle between Alf and Thomas for that final spot.

WIDE RECEIVER

When Ryan Switzer was drafted, it was presumed that Lucky Whitehead’s job is in jeopardy. That’s a fair assessment. Another player on the bubble is Brice Butler. He’s got a couple young players, Andy Jones and the recently drafted Noah Brown, who could challenge Butler for his receiver spot.

Bottom line: The Cowboys, at the very least, are no worse than they were last year keeping all the pieces in place. They are however, in a great position to bolster this group. Switzer is an upgrade over Whitehead and the Butler/Jones/Brown camp battle will be one to keep an eye on.

TIGHT END

Jason Witten scores out at just a 10 in this system because of his new contract extension. The team isn’t tied to him in terms of dead money, but they are happy to give him his $7.4 M salary that will be added to the books in 2017. He’s also 35 years old. So while the score makes sense, his security on this team is rock solid.

The more important scores are the stalemate of 10’s from the other tight ends. It should be interesting to see how this one shapes out. The Cowboys use three tight ends to accomplish two things - block in the running game and catch passes in the open field. Witten does both, but in the past they’ve used James Hanna to block and Gavin Escobar to receive. Now, those roles could be given to younger guys like Geoff Swaim (block) and Rico Gathers (receive). Gathers has made a lot of progress and fans are excited to see him on the field and with Escobar gone, he’s got no real competition as the teams space tight end. Both Hanna and Swaim dealt with injuries last year so it’s unclear what is in store for them in 2017. Swaim should have the inside edge as he’s younger and developing well.

Bottom line: Hanna looks like he’s the odd man out right now, but this far from cemented in stone. It’s still anyone’s game with three players vying for two spots.

OFFENSIVE LINE

If there’s a tough club to get into it would be the offensive line group. As you can see, the team is stacked at the top. Four of the starting five are locked down. The retirement of Doug Free has opened the door for the starting right tackle position. Chaz Green scores ahead of his toughest competition, Byron Bell, but that’s a good battle that will award the winner the starting job and the loser the swing tackle gig. However a wrench could be thrown in the mix if the coaches decide to use La’el Collins as the starting right tackle.

Both “Jumbo” Joe Looney and Jonathan Cooper were good candidates for the backup guard position, but Collins moving to RT would open up a starting guard spot. Looney can also play center so his spot on the roster is solid.

Both Emmett Clearly and UDFA Dan Skipper are a couple players to keep an eye out for, but if the team has an abundance of tackles, their chances to make the team just got a whole lot harder.

Bottom line: What happens with Collins could have a butterfly effect of how the rest of the line shapes out. There are still a few good battles to watch, but most of them will just be for bench roles. The Cowboys could be looking to just take the most talented guys and take advantage of their position flexibility.


Do you agree with this evaluation? Are there any players that scored 10 or higher that you think are at risk? Are there any players that scored lower than 10 who you think stand a great chance to make the roster?