Under normal circumstances, the Cowboys would have played their final preseason game against the Texans last night, and a bunch of players at the very bottom of the roster would have gotten extended playing time in a Cowboys uniform.
But even without that final game, the Cowboys have already played in four preseason games, have had 22 official practices in training camp, had 12 days of OTAs, and did a lot of other work that doesn't show up on the official calendar.
All of which gave the coaches, scouts, and front office personnel ample time to evaluate the entire roster before the Cowboys and every other team will have to finalize their 53-man roster.
By 4:00 p.m. EST tomorrow, all NFL teams must reduce their rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the active list, which means the Cowboys have to cut 37 players over the next 24 hours or so.
And with the quality of the roster improving from year to year, the competition for a Cowboys roster spot will force the Cowboys to release some veteran players.
- The top five draft picks (Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, and Xavier Woods) will all make the roster by virtue of their draft pedigree alone. WR Noah Brown is a strong consideration for a wide receiver spot, and even CB Marquez White might take the final cornerback spot.
- UDFA QB Cooper Rush is a roster lock, and fellow undrafted rookie free agents like DT Lewis Neal and LB Joe Jones are making a case for why they should be part of the 53-man roster, which means there could be up to 10 rookies on the roster, which in turn means up to 10 fewer spots for veteran players.
- A big part of cutting down the roster is about special teams and about which 46 players will be active every week. Jason Garrett has stated that in an ideal world, the Cowboys would like to keep players who can develop into position players while performing well on special teams until they are ready - a mindset that clearly favors the potential of the young guys over the experience of the veteran guys.
All of which means there are bound to be veteran free agent acquisitions and a number of former Cowboys rookies whose names pop up when talking about potential roster cut casualties. Below are nine of those players, all with a chance of getting cut, though some have a better chance of sticking around than others.
- Second-year WR Andy Jones looks to have been outplayed for that potential sixth WR spot by rookie Noah Brown, so it's likely off to the practice squad for the second consecutive year for Jones.
- Third-year safety Jameill Showers probably hasn't done enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but the Cowboys might want to keep him on the practice squad as potential safety depth.
- Third-year linebacker Mark Nzeocha played well enough in the 2016 preseason to make the team, but didn't look quite as good this preseason. Health (Jaylon Smith) and suspension (Damien Wilson) concerns at linebacker might keep him on the roster, but if the Cowboys decide to go short at linebacker, the Nez could be a roster casualty. He'd still be eligible for a practice squad spot though.
- Fourth-year CB Sammy Seamster was signed to the Cowboys' practice squad (his fifth NFL team) in September last year, and while No. 29 has stood out on occasion in camp, the influx of young defensive backs via the draft likely spells an end to his time in Dallas.
- Fourth-year OG/OT Kadeem Edwards may have played the most preseason snaps of any Cowboys player, but the Cowboys are only going to carry one swing tackle on their roster and it's not going to be him.
- Sixth-year safety Robert Blanton was brought in as a free agent in April, two weeks before the Cowboys drafted Xavier Woods. Given the relative youth of the Cowboys' secondary, the coaches may want to hang on to a veteran safety and special teams mainstay, but Blanton hasn't really outplayed the younger guys in camp.
- Sixth-year QB Kellen Moore has clearly lost the battle against rookie QB Cooper Rush. Jerry Jones has made noises about the Cowboys keeping three quarterbacks (including Moore), but that may change once they have to weigh keeping a sixth WR or sixth CB over a third QB.
- Sixth-year RB Ronnie Hillman signed with Dallas a week into training camp and came with some serious NFL pedigree, including a Super Bowl ring, but has failed to make a case for why he should be on the roster.
- 14-year veteran QB Luke McCown signed a contract with the Cowboys that guarantees him $250,000 and had a signing bonus of $80,000. That's not a bad deal if you can get it, though there's no chance McCown makes it through roster cuts.
But even the "final roster cuts" tomorrow won't really be final.
A day after final roster cuts in 2013, the Cowboys traded DT Sean Lissemore to the Chargers and TE Dante Rosario to the Bears. A few days later, they cut OG Nate Livings, S Eric Frampton and LB Alex Albright.
In 2014, they waived OG John Wetzel one day after final cuts and waived CB Jemea Thomas a day later.
In 2015, they waived DE Lavar Edwards on the Sunday following final cuts and waived free agent acquisition LB Jasper Brinkley on Monday.
Last year, they waived Jameill Showers one day after roster cuts to make room for Mark Sanchez.
Recent history shows that bottom of the roster veterans live dangerously in Dallas in late August/early September.
Which veteran players do you see missing the cut on Saturday, or possibly being traded at some point over the next week?