On Saturday, the Cowboys will have to trim their roster to 53 players. Over the last month we have been making all kinds of guesses as to how that final roster will look. With training camp completed, here is a final prediction for the Cowboys 53-man roster.
QUARTERBACK - 3
With Jerry Jones spilling the beans that it is “very likely” that the Cowboys keep three quarterbacks, many fans shook their heads in anguish because it meant Kellen Moore will remain on the roster. And it’s not so much that there’s disdain for Moore (however, for some, that’s exactly it), but rather the simple fact that he’s going to occupy a roster spot that could be used on some other player we really like. What a waste.
Now, I’m not sure what Jerry is doing divulging roster decisions openly to the public so let’s not take it to the bank that this is happening, but it probably is. Jerry’s in the room when these discussions are happening so it’s not like he is just spouting off haphazardly.
2016 roster - 3 (Tony Romo, Dak Prescott, and Jameill Showers)
The Cowboys kept three quarterbacks last years, despite a red-hot preseason from Prescott and a very unimpressive Showers. Sound familiar? Maybe the team just likes to have a little extra insurance.
RUNNING BACK - 5 spots
Note: This position group is configured based on Ezekiel Elliott not being suspended in 2017. Should it be upheld and Elliott does his time, there would be an extra roster spot temporarily available.
It may feel that the Cowboys are going long with five running backs. Do you really need an Alfred Morris if you got a Darren McFadden or vice versa? But what we’ve learned from preseason is that the Cowboys running game is a very crucial part of their success and they have a handful of guys that can make it hum. Why disrupt that? While people are always questioning the value of this guy vs. that guy, the real question is - why get rid of any of them? They’re good players and they cost next to nothing.
With this group in tact, the team won’t ever have to worry about their second-year quarterback handing off to a RB like Robert Turbin or Christine Michael. Every where you look there’s a 1,000 yard rusher and that’s a nice luxury to have.
2016 roster - 6 (Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson, Keith Smith, and Rod Smith)
The Cowboys even went longer last year so keeping some fresh legs available is something they value.
WIDE RECEIVER - 5 spots
The concrete was poured early on this position group and all that training camp has done is allowed it to dry. Every one of these guys have an important role to the team. The rookie, Ryan Switzer, has been held out of practice after injuring his hamstring early in camp, so he’s a mystery prize we’ll all have to open a little later, but the rest of these guys have been ball’n.
Dez Bryant has been owning corners all camp, making them look like little boys in a big boys game. Cole Beasley has picked up right where he left off last year, establishing himself as one of the sauciest covers in the league. And now apparently, Brice Butler has started to established himself as a legit receiving target. Things will only get better when Switzer joins the party. I can’t wait to see what touchdown celebration he comes up with.
A case could be made to find room for Noah Brown, but the decision to keep Moore messes that up. Ultimately, the Cowboys just don’t have the room. What are they going to do with six receivers? It would be great to stash Brown in hopes of sliding him in if Butler plays well enough to price him out of Dallas next season. Unfortunately, they are going to have to test their luck hoping him makes it through waivers for the practice squad.
2016 roster - 5 (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler)
With the departure of Lucky Whitehead, the only real question that hasn’t been answered is - who’s going to be running back kickoffs? Lance Lenior handled a great majority of the responsibilities during the preseason, but he won’t be sticking around. The punt returners are covered with the slot machines in Switzer and Beasley, but no real definitive KO returner has been established. McFadden, maybe?
The Cowboys drafted Rico Gathers and stashed him on the practice squad last season in hopes that he would eventually work himself onto the roster. It looks like their plan is coming to fruition as Gathers has flashed some great pass catching ability this preseason. His concussion has slowed things down for him, but there is no doubt he’s making the team this season.
The 35-year old Jason Witten looks so rejuvenated that he is starting to resemble the awesome 34-year old tight end we all remember from back in the day. I’m sure one of these days he’ll lose a step, but it probably won’t be in our lifetime.
James Hanna and Geoff Swaim are both healthy and doing what they do best - block. Last year, the Cowboys had neither of them and Zeke still ran for over 1,600 yards. Now, they have them both.
2016 roster - 3 (Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim)
The Cowboys would have rolled with four TEs last year had Hanna not gotten hurt. And after Swaim was injured, they had to pull resources from the offensive line to supplement their extra blocking.
OFFENSIVE LINE - 8 spots
There are still a lot of questions when it comes to the Cowboys offensive line. That is to be expected when the team has to replace two starters (Doug Free and Ron Leary). The good news is that La’el Collins has been playing well at right tackle. The so-so news is that Jonathan Cooper has been playing pretty well at left guard. The not-so-good news is that Chaz Green can’t stay healthy. And the bad news is that the depth behind them is a little shaky.
Byron Bell is a guy the team could hang on to if they want to continue to evaluate this group.
2016 roster - 8 (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Ron Leary, Doug Free, La’el Collins, Chaz Green, and Joe Looney)
The Cowboys only kept eight last season, but they were a pretty solid eight.
DEFENSIVE END - 7 spots
The Cowboys will start the season with David Irving and Damontre Moore suspended. Irving (PED) will miss for games and Moore (DUI) will only miss two. While four players are listed as starters here, the Cowboys use a frequent rotation that it’s hard to separate individuals into definitive spots. The team has a very deep group and if you asked 10 people to rank these guys, you’d get 10 different lists. But one thing most everyone can agree on - all seven of these guys will make the team.
With two guys starting the season suspended, they’ll only have to divvy up playing time for five guys, but the challenge comes later when they return. It will be interesting to see how the DE group looks once those guys come back.
2016 roster - 4 (David Irving, Benson Mayowa, Jack Crawford, and Charles Tapper)
Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence started the season suspended and Charles Tapper season ended before it had a chance to get started as the team put him on IR (back injury - pars defect) a month into the season.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE - 4 spots
The Cowboys have completely remodeled their defensive tackle position group as none of these guys were on the team two years ago. The emergence of rising star Maliek Collins has given the team a bona fide inside presence. The team is still trying to find a good 1-tech, but Stephen Paea has been impressive in training camp. Let’s just hope the swelling in his knee doesn’t hinder his season.
Lewis Neal makes the team because of the extra spots vacant from injury/suspension. The Cowboys have edge rushers that can move inside so unless he demonstrates a reason to keep him around, his stay could end after four weeks when the team gets Irving back.
2016 roster - 4 (Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, and Maliek Collins)
Terrell McClain stayed healthy and put together a strong season, but left for more money from the Washington Redskins. Cedric Thornton didn’t live up to expectations when the team signed him in free agency last year, but is hoping to rebound.
LINEBACKER - 7 spots
It seems like the Cowboys endure a preseason hardship every season at the linebacker position. In 2014, they lost Sean Lee for the season when he hurt his knee in OTAs. In 2015 and 2016, they lost Rolando McClain due to failed drug test suspensions. And this season, Anthony Hitchens suffered a leg injury that will sideline him for 8-10 weeks.
But hey, Lee is healthy and that’s what really matters, right? And then there’s that Jaylon Smith fella. He’ll be a star one day, but the team is still gradually getting him acclimated to football action. He won’t be taking on a major role this season. If Damien Wilson and Justin Durant remain available, the Cowboys should still be in good shape.
If Hitchens starts the season on IR, then another roster spot becomes available. The Cowboys will need to use it for the linebacker position to sustain depth. The final LB spot should come down to Mark Nzeocha and Joseph Jones. Many have penciled Nzeocha in for that spot due to his value on special teams, but as The Cool One pointed out recently, Joseph Jones has been active in ST as well. He gets the nod.
2016 roster - 7 (Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar, and Mark Nzeocha)
Last season Jaylon Smith was on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list and Rolando McClain was on the Reserve/Did Not Report list. Just like they’ll do this year, the Cowboys will round out this group while providing Rich Bisaccia some good tools to work with.
CORNERBACK - 6 spots
The Cowboys borrow a roster spot from one of the suspended guys to rent the services of Marquez White for a couple weeks. This spot might have gone to Duke Thomas who was showing out in preseason games, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s contest against the Oakland Raiders. The team was already dealing with injuries to their rookie corners, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
Keeping White around a little longer will provide them some depth while the rookies are recovering. He could be a roster cut casualty when Damontre Moore returns from his suspension if the team feels they are healthy at the cornerback position.
2016 roster - 5 (Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Anthony Brown, and Dax Swanson)
Every year the Cowboys have some dark horse snag that last CB spot. Last season it was Dax Swanson who jumped ahead of Ayodeji Olatoye after Olatoye kept getting shredded in the Cowboys final preseason game. Swanson would get cut a few days later and Olatoye would eventually sign with the Atlanta Falcons and play in the Super Bowl last season. He was personally responsible for the Falcons fourth quarter collapse (not really).
SAFETY - 4 spots
The Cowboys typically carry five safeties, but they just don’t have a fifth on worth keeping. Robert Blanton was signed in free agency, but hasn’t done anything in camp. He looks very pedestrian going against third-team competition. No thanks.
Instead the team will look to their cornerback pool to grab their last defensive back. The big question is can Jeff Heath step in and be a viable safety replacing the departed Barry Church?
2016 roster - 5 (Barry Church, Byron Jones, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier)
J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath had good seasons last year in reserve roles. Kavon Frazier played limited snaps and was primarily a special teams player.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3 spots
These guys are great. They are worthy of our appreciation. Make sure you send them a Christmas card in the mail.
2016 roster - 3 (Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur)
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Do you agree with these predictions? Which players would you have making the team?