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 III - Tight End
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.
- Jason Witten. The ironman is entering his 15th season. He’s 16th among all-time Cowboys in Approximate Value, at 108, tied with Ralph Neeley, who played left tackle from 1965-1977. He’s 8 AV behind Tony Romo, who ranks 14th. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 70 catches, a catch percentage of around 72.5%, about 700 yards, and 3-4 touchdowns. He’s no longer an elite tight end in the NFL, but he never misses time, blocks, and reliably moves the chains. Will the Cowboys sit him at times in order to try a double-slot offense with Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer inside?
- Geoff Swaim. Swaim isn’t great at anything, but he’s entering training camp as a lock because he has two more cheap years on his contract.
- Rico Gathers. Gathers was a practice squad player last year, but has received tons of hype coming into this season. For a while, he was the #2 tight end at OTAs because Swaim and James Hanna were out. But he missed most of minicamp with pink eye, then made a mistake one practice that caused him to throw his helmet in frustration. Just enough to remind us he’s a work in progress.
Fighting For That Last Spot
- James Hanna. Coming off an injury that sidelined him all of last season, Hanna has yet to practice with the team. He missed all of OTAs and mini-camp. But he’s “hopeful” to return at training camp. The issue for Hanna is whether he’ll be all the way back. If he is, his experience and blocking ability may keep him on the roster. But he costs $3 million in cap space, with a $1.5 million hit if he’s let go.
- Blake Jarwin. Jarwin was signed as a UDFA. A two-year starter at Oklahoma State, he caught 41 balls in his career for 616 yards and 5 TDs. He is 6’5” and 246 lbs. His profile says, among other things, that he “needs work in the weight room and as a blocker in order to handle reps as an NFL tight end.”
- Connor Hamlett. Hamlett played in three games for Cleveland last year, catching one pass for 17 yards. He’s bigger than Jarwin, at 6’7”. He started with Jacksonville as a UDFA in 2015.
The Cowboys have alternated years of taking three or four tight ends back to 2013. Last year they only took three, but had Rico Gathers on the practice squad. Still, even after Geoff Swaim went down, the Cowboys didn’t call up a replacement.
If Gathers can hold down a spot, show he knows the plays, and blocks well, there may not be a need for a fourth tight end on the roster. The team certainly doesn’t need one to catch passes, with second tight ends never getting more than a few balls thrown their way. As for needing an extra blocker on occasion, the Cowboys tended to use Joe Looney in those spots last year after Swaim was hurt. Hanna could be let go, or traded, to free up cap space, with Jarwin and Hamlett both potential practice squad players. Given the squeeze at other positions, like defensive line and defensive secondary, this makes the most sense.
It’s possible Hanna could still beat out either Swaim or Gathers, but if he does, it’s more likely the Cowboys will keep four than cut one of the cheap guys.
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