Recently, One Cool Customer posted about the Dallas Cowboys depth chart in advance of the Colts game. He makes the point that a lot of painful cuts will be coming. Certainly lots of cuts will have to be made.
My own previous guess at a 53-man roster was published July 6th, before training camp. It’s time to update that.
Offensive line - 9
Not much has changed here. The only question is who will start at left guard, and it’s looking like the Cowboys would like it to be Chaz Green if he can stay healthy.
Starters: Tyron Smith, Chaz Green, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La’el Collins
Depth: Emmett Cleary, Jonathan Cooper, Joe Looney, Byron Bell
Cuts: Kadeem Edwards, Nate Theaker, Dan Skipper, Ross Burbank, Clay DeBord
The Cowboys will keep nine because of injury concerns about several players, and they will stick with the most experienced players, rather than taking any rookies.
Wide receiver - 5
Nothing has changed here.
Starters: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
Depth: Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler
Cuts: Noah Brown, Andy Jones, Lance Lenoir, Brian Brown, Uzoma Nwachukwu
Noah Brown and Andy Jones have had moments, but the Cowboys will stash them on the practice squad. With Rico Gathers emergence as a receiving option, along with more balls likely for Ezekiel Elliott when he is on the field, a sixth receiver would never be active.
Tight end - 4
Gathers is now a lock.
Starter: Jason Witten
Depth: Rico Gathers, James Hanna, and Geoff Swaim.
Cuts: Blake Jarwin
Rico Gathers has burst onto the scene, and already overtaken James Hanna and Geoff Swaim as a receiving threat. In my eyes, he should be the #2 guy, though he’s likely to split time with James Hanna until he can learn to block as well as Hanna. Geoff Swaim may be active as a special teams player, but otherwise has been eclipsed. He’s really not needed on offense unless someone else gets hurt.
Quarterback - 3
Cooper Rush has changed the equation.
Starter: Dak Prescott
Depth: Kellen Moore, Cooper Rush
Cuts: Luke McCown
Depending on performance in these final preseason games, if I were the Cowboys, I would cut Moore and keep only Rush as the backup, saving the roster spot for another position. Having Rush under contract for four years to develop is worth much more than keeping Moore, who has already reached his ceiling, and it’s not high enough.
Running backs - 4
Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension changes things.
Suspended: Ezekiel Elliott
Starters: Darren McFadden and Keith Smith (FB)
Depth: Alfred Morris and Rod Smith
Cuts: Ronnie Hillman
The Cowboys can’t afford to go long here with so many other spots pressing for bodies, especially with Zeke coming back. The only question is whether Morris or McFadden gets the bulk of the carries, and it looks like the coaches favor McFadden. Hillman doesn’t offer enough to supplant Rod Smith, who is a special teams standout. When Zeke returns, Morris could be the odd man out.
Offense overall - 25
Defensive line - 9
Some of the depth has changed, and Moore is now officially suspended.
Suspensions: David Irving (4 games), Damontre Moore (2 games), Randy Gregory (indefinitely). We often forget about Gregory, but we’d have a different team if he was allowed to play.
Starters: Tyrone Crawford, Stephen Paea, Maliek Collins, DeMarcus Lawrence
Depth: Taco Charlton, Cedric Thornton, Lewis Neal, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper
Cuts: Lenny Jones, Joey Ivie, Jordan Carrell, Richard Ash, Woody Baron
This is probably one of the most fluid groups on the roster. The only painful cut for me would be Lenny Jones, who jumped off the screen against the Rams. Is he better than Charles Tapper? Also, when Moore and Irving come back, who goes? The Cowboys can’t keep 10 or 11 guys here without squeezing some other place, like the third quarterback slot.
What about cutting Cedric Thornton? It seems cost prohibitive, but is he one of the best 8 players, especially after Irving returns?
Linebackers - 6
Wilson’s potential suspension is the main issue here.
Suspensions: Damien Wilson?
Starters: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant
Depth: Jaylon Smith, Mark Nzeocha, Kyle Wilber
Cuts: John Lotuelei, Joseph Jones, Darnell Leslie, Kennan Gilchrist
If Wilson is suspended, Durant will likely take his slot. Hitchens and Jaylon Smith will likely split snaps until Smith can establish that he’s better (which should happen eventually, even if Hitchens keeps improving). The Cowboys can’t afford to go long here either given the pressures on the defensive line. The question is, who will go if Wilson is suspended when he returns, or if he's not suspended at all? Mark Nzeocha seems the most likely, as the team has been without him the last two years, but it won’t be an easy decision.
Defensive backs - 9
Not much has changed here from my earlier post.
Suspensions: Nolan Carroll?
Starters: Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath, Byron Jones
Depth: Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier, Marquez White
Cuts: Robert Blanton, Leon McFadden, Sammy Seamster, Jameill Showers, Duke Thomas
The problem here is that rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis hasn’t gotten in any practice or game time yet. Unless that changes, the Cowboys may be forced to keep someone like Leon McFadden to cover for him while he gets up to speed. Marquez White is kept here given his size and potential upside.
If Carroll is not suspended, then he slots in as a starter, with Brown a reserve, and the Wild Card question below is answered. Of course, the Cowboys went with an average of more than 5 DBs per play last year so that 3rd cornerback and 3rd safety are going to get lots of snaps.
Overall defense - 24
Specialists - 3
Long snapper - LP Ladouceur
Kicker - Dan Bailey
Punter - Chris Jones
No issues here.
Wild card - 1
Given the potential suspensions to Nolan Carroll and Damien Wilson, I listed only 24 players on defense, where the Cowboys will likely keep at least 25. It’s most likely to be filled by a 10th defensive back, but it could also be filled by an extra defensive lineman or linebacker.
Overall, there aren’t a lot of painful cuts here. Several draft picks might not make it this year - Noah Brown, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell. But they could all make the practice squad. Leon McFadden played most of last year, and might still squeak on the roster if Nolan Carroll is suspended. The rookie offensive linemen are all too raw at this point, and the best can develop on the practice squad.
To me, the most difficult area to cut is on the defensive line. Lenny Jones has shown up in preseason, but seems to be battling with Charles Tapper for that last slot. Either that, or preseason standout Lewis Neal will face the ax. And that’s all with Irving and Moore out for four and two games, respectively. Who goes when they come back, assuming everyone stays healthy? Personally, I would cut Kellen Moore to keep an extra defensive lineman we can develop, and to provide injury depth.