The first place to look if you are thinking about Cowboys’ roster battles is our own 2017 Dallas Cowboys Interactive Roster Builder. This handy tool is kept up-to-date by OCC, and is well worth the visit because it shows that roster battles aren’t always within position groups, but across groups. For example, keeping a third quarterback or a tenth or eleventh defensive lineman means going light somewhere else. We also know that roster churn is a year round business, so there are likely to be some new names by training camp, and potentially even after final cut down day. With that caveat, let’s begin.
Part I - Offensive Line.
These are the players currently on the roster. We’ll lead with the locks, followed by the probables, then get to the fight for the last spot.
- Tyron Smith. One of the best, if not the best, left tackles in the NFL. Two time All-Pro, four time Pro Bowler. 13 Approximate Value in 2016, 67 AV for career, second highest on team.
- Travis Frederick. Perhaps the best center in the game. All-Pro in 2016, three time Pro Bowler, 13 AV in 2016, 41 for his career.
- Zack Martin. Perhaps the best guard in the NFL. Two time All-Pro, three time Pro Bowler, 13 AV in 2016, 35 for his three-year career.
- La’el Collins. Likely replacement for Doug Free at right tackle. Missed most of 2016 with toe injury. Huge upside. Only 1 AV in 2016 because of injury. 4 AV in 2015.
- Jonathan Cooper. Former first-round draft pick is likely to get first shot at taking over left guard slot vacated by Ron Leary (and La’el Collins’ move to right tackle). Highest draft pedigree (seventh) of any Cowboys offensive lineman.
- Chaz Green. Third-round pick in 2015, which leaves him under contract for this year and next year. Subbed well for Tyron Smith last year, until he got hurt again. Injury issues have plagued him. Was tried at left guard in OTAs and minicamp.
- Joe Looney. In second year of two-year deal. Served as primary interior backup last year. Cowboys worked Jonathan Cooper at center in OTAs, but if Cooper starts at guard, Looney is needed to serve as gameday backup to Frederick. That gives him a leg up over the other experienced linemen in camp.
Fighting For That Last Spot
Over the last four years, the Cowboys have started the season with 10, 9, 9 and 8 offensive linemen. That suggests 8 will certainly stay, and the ninth slot will be the bubble slot.
These two players seem to be fighting for the eighth slot. We put both behind Chaz Green because Green is signed for two more years, while these two are only signed for one.
Signed to one-year $2M contract, with bonuses for making weight. Injured in 2016, but multi-year starter before that. Can play tackle or guard. He’s likely competing with Chaz Green to be the primary swing tackle on game day, or perhaps with Jonathan Cooper to be the starting left guard. However, if he doesn’t perform well, his contract makes him somewhat vulnerable to being cut, as Emmett Cleary is much cheaper.
In second year of two-year deal. Cleary became the swing tackle last year after Chaz Green was hurt, but with the more experienced Byron Bell signed to compete with Green, Cleary could be the odd man out. Cowboys also tried him at guard during OTAs.
If the Cowboys go with nine offensive linemen, will they keep both Bell and Cleary, or consider adding one of these players?
Dan Skipper - This 6’10” giant was signed as a UDFA this season. Played tackle in college, but Cowboys lined him up some as a guard in OTAs, and that’s how he’s listed on the Cowboys roster.
Clay DeBord - 2016 practice squad tackle.
Kadeem Edwards - 2016 practice squad guard.
Nate Theaker - Guard signed as a UDFA this year.
Ross Burbank - Center in second year. Originally signed by the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent on May 10, 2016. Released on August 29 and signed to the Seahawks practice squad on December 28. Cowboys picked him up after the draft.
Ruben Carter - Center in second year. Was signed as a UDFA by the Dolphins last year. Cowboys picked him up after the draft.
This battle is likely to come down to Bell v. Cleary for the 8th offensive lineman spot. With several tackles able to play guard, the Cowboys will have great versatility in their offensive front.
The challenge in going with eight offensive linemen is the risk of injury. Jonathan Cooper has been injured multiple times in his short career, and Chaz Green has yet to stay healthy for a season. La’el Collins was lost for 2016 after three games, and Byron Bell missed last season with an injury.
Yet, given roster squeezes elsewhere, the Cowboys may consider carrying only eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster. The question may turn on whether that ninth lineman can be replaced, either on the open market, or from the practice squad, once the season is underway. If Emmett Cleary is your ninth guy, can you get nearly as much quality as he offers during the season without having to guarantee him a roster spot?
Cleary was picked up last year in late September, so he serves as an example of how Dallas was able to start with eight linemen, suffer injuries to La’el Collins and Chaz Green, and still survive. Will they try that plan again?
There’s no real need for Dallas to look for a veteran cast off at this point, because they’d have the same squeeze to start the season they have now. Next season Dallas will have to make decisions about Jonathan Cooper, Joe Looney, Byron Bell, and Emmett Cleary (if he’s still here), as they are all free agents. But for now, they seem set. (La’el Collins can be retained as a restricted free agent in 2018. He won’t be a UFA until 2019).
Part I - Offensive Line
Part II - Wide Receiver
Part III - Tight End
Part IV - Quarterback
Part V - Running Back
Part VI - Defensive Line
Part VII - Linebacker
Part VIII - Cornerback
Part IX - Safety
Part X - Special Teams