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 VIII - Cornerback
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.
With last year’s starting cornerbacks - Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne - signing as free agents elsewhere, the Cowboy signed one free agent - Nolan Carroll - then spent three draft picks on cornerbacks. How will this group now shake out?
Who is the best cornerback on the Cowboys’ roster? Is it Scandrick? Nolan Carroll? Or Anthony Brown? Or will it be one of the rookies? It seems like a very fluid position group.
Last year, you could say that Brandon Carr was the most reliable cornerback, never missing a game, and putting up solid, if not great numbers. He rebounded with his best season in years after moving back to the right side, where he had played in Kansas City. Mo Claiborne, on the other hand, was the best cornerback, finally, but he ran into his usual injury issues, missed the second half of the season, and was ineffective in the playoff game after he returned. Carr was on the wrong side of 30, while Mo could never stay healthy. So it made sense for the Cowboys to move on.
The question remains: What do they have?
- Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick is the team’s elder statesman. He’s been injured recently, missing all of 2015, and four games of 2016, and didn’t start over Anthony Brown when he returned. He’s a lock because his contract would leave a $6.1 million dead cap number this year if cut, while he costs “only” $5.2 million to keep. The dead cap declines to $3.8 million next year, then $1.6 million in 2019, at which point he’ll probably be gone. His approximate value has never been higher than 5, which it was in 2013 and 2014. That makes him an average to slightly above average cornerback, not a great one.
- Anthony Brown. Brown was a real find in the sixth round. He only made the D quadrant in OCC’s pre-draft SPARQ look at cornerbacks last year. And he is only 5’11”, so he doesn’t fit the Cowboys preference for taller CBs. But he ran a 4.35 sec 40-yard dash, and showed up immediately on the field as a willing tackler and someone able to fill in for Scandrick when he was hurt, then Mo Claiborne when he went down. If he makes a leap from year one to year two, he could easily be the Cowboys best cornerback in 2017.
- Chidobe Awuzie. As a second-round pick, Awuzie is a lock. The question for him is: What is his best position? He has the size and the tackling ability to become a safety. He’s also played inside and outside. The Cowboys seem content to train him up as a cornerback first, much like they did with Byron Jones.
- Jourdan Lewis. As a third-round pick, Lewis is close to being a lock. I’m putting him here as much for his expected ability as his draft pedigree and cheap contract. One area of uncertainty, however, is his looming legal issue regarding his alleged assault. Will this lead to any type of suspension? One can only guess. Given his size and quickness, most have projected him for the slot, but he also played a lot on the outside at Michigan, so it’s unlikely he would be limited in his potential roles.
- Nolan Carroll. Nolan Carroll is also likely a lock. But of the veterans over 30 - a spot he shares with Scandrick - his contract is much more friendly to being cut, with a $3 million dead cap hit, than Scandrick’s, which would cost Dallas more than twice as much. Carroll was signed as pre-draft insurance, and to help the Cowboys cope with the loss of Brandon Carr’s 1,000 snaps without having to throw rookies into the fire immediately. That’s likely still his role. As long as he can outplay the rookies, he’ll keep his job. That should buy him 2017. But if any rookie passes him during the year, he will probably be let go next year.
Fighting For That Last Spot
That’s five cornerbacks for a position where the Cowboys haven’t kept more during any of the last four years. Indeed, in 2013 and 2014, the Cowboys started the season with only four cornerbacks. Is there a chance for anyone else to make this team?
- Marquez White. A sixth-round pick, and the third cornerback chosen by Dallas this year, White seems to have an uphill battle to make the team. At 6 feet, he has the height Dallas likes. His arms are also two inches longer than Chidobe Awuzie’s. He’s not nearly the SPARQ athlete that Awuzie is according to OCC’s pre-draft roundup, but he’s comparable to Jourdan Lewis. The main difference between them according to OCC’s charts is that Lewis was in the C quadrant because of high production at Michigan, while White was in the D quadrant - lower SPARQ and lower production. Yet he shouldn’t be overlooked. If the Cowboys’ goal is to swap our their entire secondary, they would be looking to offload Carroll after one year, and Scandrick after two. It would be helpful to have someone in-house they had trained to take those players’ spots. White has to show enough potential to be worth holding a slot, and not risking to waivers to sneak onto the practice squad.
- Leon McFadden. McFadden didn’t make the opening roster last year, but was brought back when the Cowboys started suffering injuries to the secondary. He got into three games and played 56 snaps, but 39 of them came in the backups game at Philadelphia at the end of the year. It’s probably not enough to save him this year.
- Jeremiah McKinnon. McKinnon has done enough that the Cowboys keep bringing him back. But he’s still practice squad eligible, which is the highest he’s likely to attain in Dallas.
The Cowboys also have Sammy Seamster and Duke Thomas.
Since the Cowboys are trying to break in at least two rookies — Awuzie and Lewis — one of whom has a potential suspension hanging over his head, and drafted a third rookie in Marquez White, it seems certain the team will carry at least five on the opening roster. They haven’t carried six any time recently, but if someone like Marquez White plays well enough not to risk cutting to make the practice squad, this is one year it seems possible.
Another factor that could force the Cowboys to lean that way is they may consider Awuzie to be in play as a safety down the line (after Jones’ contract renewal comes due?), and could see an eventual lineup of White and Brown outside, with Lewis in the slot. (On the flip side, the team has felt it can patch a temporary hole at cornerback with Byron Jones.)
Accordingly, five is certain, six is possible. Everyone else is playing for the practice squad.
Part VIII - Cornerback
Part IX - Safety
Part X - 53-Man Overview