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Why Cowboys have a lot of roster churn, and why it's absolutely necessary

After finishing 13-3, it would be easy to sit back and think that a few changes here or there will be enough for the 2017 Cowboys. But that would probably be wrong.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Facility Tour Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In January 2015, Jerry Jones explained that roster turnover every year is about 30%:

"We have about a 30 percent turnover every year. What is the core? Who is the core? That’s a part of what we’ll be doing. We’ve had more numbers of players play a key role in our success this year than I had thought we would when we started this season."

So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to find that the 2017 Cowboys will look quite different than last year's iteration of the team.

Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap took a team-by-team look at the roster turnover in the NFL, and found that the Cowboys have the second-highest roster turnover in the league. The rankings were based on total snaps lost, quality snaps lost, quality special teams snaps lost and average per year dollars lost.

Just based on turnover alone this is the one playoff team that stands to have a major shift. Gone are Ronald Leary, Doug Free, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Terrell McClain, JJ Wilcox, and Jack Crawford with the incoming veterans being Byron Bell, Stephen Paea, and Nolan Carroll. Dallas simply is not in a position, especially with more extensions coming for their linemen, to keep anybody which is a tough pill to swallow for a team that was so good last year. It isn’t that these players are not replaceable, its just that having to replace so many in one year is not an easy thing to accomplish.

The DMN's Rick Gosselin, writing for, gives his own perspective on the roster turnover.

Eight starters from their NFC semifinal playoff appearance are gone, including two offensive linemen and three defensive backs, and a ninth starter will sit the opening month of the 2017 season with an NFL suspension (DE David Irving).

That feels like a lot of change.

On Thursday, BTB's VAfan tried his hand at predicting the 53-man roster for the 2017 Cowboys. If you compare his projection to the season-opening 53-man roster against the Giants from 2016, you'll find that VAfan - whether by chance or by design - has only 35 players from the 2016 season opener returning this year, which means that 18 players from last year's squad, or 33% of the roster, were replaced with other players. VAFan may not have gotten all the players right, but the amount of churn sounds about right, and lines up nicely with the 30% turnover Jerry Jones spoke about.

That's still a lot of change, but it doesn't feel like it was unexpected.

And VAfan's projection has more players returning from 2016, even if those players were not on the 53-man season-opening roster last year. Six more players who were with the Cowboys at the start of the season (just not on the 53-man roster) are back in the mix this year, joining the team from IR (Jaylon Smith, James Hanna, Darren McFadden, Kellen Moore), suspension (Demarcus Lawrence) or the practice squad (Rico Gathers).

In total, that makes 41 returning players, and drops the roster turnover percentage to about 23%, which doesn't feel anything like some of the more alarmist reports would have you believe. Still, letting eight starters leave in free agency, is not something that happens every year, even if the Cowboys probably feel they've more than adequately replaced most of the departures.

After finishing 13-3, it would be easy to sit back and think that a few changes here or there will be enough to get the Cowboys into the NFC Championship game or beyond in 2017. But that would probably be wrong.

Success in the NFL depends in part on an organization's ability to dispassionately evaluate the talent on its roster, and to move on quickly if it sees that the talent on the roster doesn't meet the franchise's requirements.

But when you just finished 13-3, you have a tendency to see everything through rose-colored glasses. It makes you think that a pass defense that finished with only nine interceptions just needs an upgrade or two and everything will fall into place. That keeping the same defensive line personnel for another year will somehow lead to significantly better results. That going into the season without a proven veteran backup won't matter because you'll simply luck out once more.

Good franchises will err on the side of speed in identifying and correcting their talent acquisition mistakes and roster holes. Jimmy Johnson drafted wide receiver Alexander Wright with the top pick in the second round in the 1990 draft. Johnson quickly realized that Wright would not pan out and drafted Alvin Harper with the 12th pick of the first round the following year.

Roster churn and player turnover happen every year. Except when you’re 13-3, complacency sets in much quicker than when you’re 4-12.

The Cowboys will feature 8+ new starters in 2017, and have about 15 players who didn't play a single snap for the team last year. All of which will be absolutely necessary if the Cowboys want to improve over 2016.

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