When the Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster, it’s going to be a thing of beauty. The players making the team will be a part of the journey that is the 2017 season. And as we know already, the expectations for this season are big so every player on the roster needs to be able to be a key contributor. It’s a big deal.
Going through the players currently on the roster, there are a significant amount of players that look secure in holding down roster spots. Here is a breakdown:
OFFENSE: 19 spots occupied
DEFENSE: 24 spots occupied
SPECIAL TEAMS: 3 spots occupied
Everyone listed in blue are solid locks. Those listed in silver seem likely to make the team based on what the coaches have said or the type of investment the team has made in them. Those players are sitting in better shape than some of us fans are willing to accept.
That’s a total of 46 spots that are already taken up by a player that stands a good chance to make the team. This leaves only seven remaining roster spots available for about 17 quality candidates fighting to make the team. These are the bubble boys. Some will make it, some won’t, and some will be signed to the practice squad. Here are my rankings of the final seven players that will make the Cowboys team.
After all the drama involving Cowboys players in recent years, a player like Moore isn’t someone I would hold my breath for. He had locker room issues and off-field problems with other teams. This free agent signing just screamed - no thanks.
While the trust issues are still there and he’s got a two-game suspension to start the season, Moore is having a great camp and appears to be doing everything right so far. The team is loaded at defensive end in terms of numbers, but there are still so many questions and the upside of Moore is good enough to keep his seat warm on the roster.
Over eight million people watched the Hall of Fame game last week. That’s more than those who watched the NBA All-Star game this past season. That’s a lot of people who got a good glimpse of the Cowboys promising young, athletic tight end.
Rico still has a lot of development to do as he’s very inconsistent. But after the game he had on Thursday, the Cowboys might have a hard time sneaking him on the practice squad again this season. The team invested in him because of his upside and he is starting to show evidence of just how good he can be. The team can still take their time with him and make him a game day inactive until he is ready, but it’s too risky to try to keep him on the practice squad. For that reason, he’s got to receive a golden ticket.
There is nothing impressive about Looney. He’s a backup guard and just doesn’t have the talent to make the jump as the team’s starter. It took me a bit to see that, but after watching him get pushed around by backups in the Arizona game, it’s clearer now.
He’s still solid and the team doesn’t have a lot of talent at the position, so he should be able to grab one of the final roster spots on the offensive line.
You are either on team McFadden or team Morris. There seems to be no in between. I am on team Morris. Coming into the season, most fans wanted McFadden as the team’s number two running back and to just release Morris (or trade him as if he has some sort of fortuitous trade value). Recency bias has a lot to do with that. Morris become very unproductive as the season progressed last year, whereas the last memory of McFadden involved him rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2015.
What’s odd is that when Morris first started with Dallas and was playing well while Ezekiel Elliott started off slow, many fans were calling for more Alfredo sauce. Recency bias is a powerful thing.
The important thing to remember is the big picture. The Cowboys need to have insurance if Zeke isn’t available. While it’s true, that when Morris has been relegated to a backup role, whether it be in Dallas or Washington, he’s struggled. But when he’s been given the keys to the car, he takes off and cruises down the highway. With the injury history of McFadden, I’m keeping Morris around just in case. The running game is too important to not hedge your bets a little to ensure it can stay effective.
When it comes to Darren McFadden and Kellen Moore, I’m buried in a state of confusion as to why the coaches love them so much. They are great character players and prepare like champions, but it’s hard to get excited with them in a lead role.
If given the opportunity, McCown could end up being the best performing quarterback in the preseason of all the backups. And if that happens, it would be hard to leave him off the roster. Just as having good insurance for Zeke is important, having good insurance for Dak Prescott is even more important.
Undrafted pet-cat alert. My other pet cat (Jahad Thomas) has been euthanized, so it’s only fair that I get a brand new kitten. The Cowboys last linebacker spot on the roster is a battle between Mark Nzeocha and some young player trying to steal his spot (Joseph Jones, Lucas Wacha, John Lotulelei, and Keenan Gilchrist). Right now, the young kid in the lead is Joseph Jones. He had an impressive first preseason games, recording nine tackles. He reads the play well and is quick in his attack. Look for more out of number 43 in upcoming preseason games.
While everyone is focused on the left guard position, the team still needs to find a good swing tackle. The team has a couple guard options who have the flexibility to play on the edge. With the middle pretty stacked, the emphasis should be on finding the best player to fill in at tackle. Edwards has looked pretty good in camp and held his own at the tackle position on Thursday. Emmett Clearly might be the name you see on here when it’s all settled, but Edwards is my dark-horse player to sneak on and grab the last roster spot.
The Surprise Cuts
Every year it happens. Many of us won’t see it coming. Players that seemed to be in good standing all of a sudden didn’t make the cut. Some decisions will have to do with team fit, some will have to do with money, and yet others will be based on how it helps the team long term.
The Cowboys can only carry so many running backs. There are too many other players at other positions that need those roster spots. It’s going to come down to who’s better - Morris or Smith. While Smith has had a great camp, is he really a better running back than Morris? No.
Let’s look a the big picture here. What will the team get from Smith? As a running back, he’s just a depth guy. He’s not someone who can be a third-down back, nor is he a good change of pace back. The only appeal of him over Morris is his ability to play special teams, but the Cowboys have a number of players at the bottom half of their roster that are special teams options. That’s not enough to earn him a roster spot.
The Cowboys want their offensive linemen lean and Bell is doing everything he can to get himself into shape. He’s already earned two of his workout bonuses, costing the team $300k so far so it might seem like a surprise to cut him loose after shelling out that bonus money. His contract still makes him one of the more cap friendly cuts as far as offensive linemen go, but it’s simply going to come down to who can play the best. He may be an okay option at guard and an okay option at tackle, but there could be reserve player at each position that is better than he is.
If the team were to keep six wide receivers on the roster, Jones would be the player to keep as right now, he’s a better wide receiver than Noah Brown. He’s had a good camp and is playing himself onto a roster, but it just won’t be the Cowboys roster. The team cannot afford to go deep at wideout. It wouldn’t surprise me if the front office traded Jones close to the final cuts so they can get something in return for him. If they try to sneak him on the practice squad, it will only be a matter of time before someone snatches him.
There is this old saying that “you can’t make the club from the tub.” In just his first two seasons, the Cowboys seventh-round pick from 2015 has already missed a lot of time with a knee injury (from college) and Achilles injury (suffered in training camp last year). To add insult to injury, he came into the NFL relatively raw so his inability to be on the field has hindered his development.
How long does the team hold on to this guy as they wait for him to improve? Can he be relied upon to stay healthy? His competition could push him off the roster.
There are no standouts at the reserve safety position so he’s got a good chance to win a spot, but the younger draft investments are in the lead. As far as pure, heavy-hitting strong safeties go, Kavon Frazier is starting to look the part. And the ball-hawking ability of Xavier Woods offers more upside than the veteran, Blanton.
The Practice Squad
You may have some of these players making the 53-man roster. Odds are, at least one of them will make it, especially when you factor in the spots available from the suspended players. The Cowboys like to load up on potential in later rounds and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before these players are roster-ready. They are good practice squad prospects.
Fans will freak out when the team tries to sneak them on the practice squad, but like what happens so regularly, they’ll survive waivers and the Cowboys can keep them in their back pocket for later.
As we learn more about how each of these players are doing in camp, I’ll post more bubble boy assessments. What you see today will not be the same a week from now. Stay tuned as we keep a close eye on the Cowboys roster battles.
Which bubble players do you think make the cut? Which players do you think could be a surprise cut?