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Early offseason roster predictions: Which offensive players will be on the roster come September?

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Dissecting the roster on offense and deciding which players could be replaced this offseason.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With March here, the Dallas Cowboys are close to entering the free agency portion of the NFL offseason. While the Cowboys haven’t been major players in free agency for quite some time, the front office will still look to navigate the market and find alternatives that come at a cheap price tag. In recent years, this had led to guys like Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, and Terrell McClain.

Judging by how the last half of the season went, it should not be surprising at all to hear that Cowboys fans could be more excited about the defense rather than the offense. Health upfront on the offensive line, a hurried-up mental clock for Dak Prescott, a six-game suspension to Ezekiel Elliott, and an inability for receivers to consistently get open all attributed to the Cowboys’ offense taking a step back in the second half of the season.

The purpose of this article is to assess each player on the offense, both starters and backups, to evaluate what their fit is in 2018 and for the long-term. In the event that a player does not receive a roster-level verdict, that could mean they could be replaced by either a player in the draft or in free agency.

Be advised - we are only going to evaluate players who are under contract for the upcoming season. So, for example, Jonathan Cooper is not here because he will be a free agent. Additionally, some of these guys could come back to the practice squad.

Let’s get it going.

Quarterbacks

Dak Prescott: In what will be his third year in 2018, Prescott faces an immense amount of pressure to show the league what he truly is. It was the perfect storm for Prescott regressed in 2018, causing him to regress. He was very good in the first half of the year, but then Elliott was hit with the suspension and Tyron Smith needed time off due to injury.

That led to perhaps the Cowboys’ most abysmal offensive showing in recent history against the Atlanta Falcons where they managed just 233 yards of offense and seven points. From that game on, Prescott looked erratic. His footwork looked hurried and misguided, his passes were all over the place and inaccurate, and he was trying to create space out of the pocket for no reason.

As OTAs and summer workouts begin, it will be crucial for Prescott to get comfortable again with the players around him. Prescott has had an impressive 32 games so far in his young NFL career. However, he is the quarterback for the most watched team in the league. We saw this before with Tony Romo, Prescott is going to receive a lot of blame any time this team loses. To combat that, an important 2018 will be needed.

Verdict: On roster - Starting quarterback

Cooper Rush: Oddly enough, Rush beat out Kellen Moore to be the team’s backup quarterback and now Moore has become the team’s quarterbacks coach. It sure is quite a weird situation, but that is the loyalty Scott Linehan has towards Moore. Rush balled out last preseason and while he may not be the best backup quarterback option, he has shown potential.

Verdict: On roster - Backup quarterback

Zac Dysert: Last season, Dysert herniated a disc in his back after reaching for a bag on the ground. Not the best look for Dysert. While he is under contract, no one really knows what the Cowboys will do in regards to keeping multiple quarterbacks on the roster. They have gone with two in the past and that should happen again this year.

Verdict: Off roster - Cut

Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott: At age 22, Elliott will be the Cowboys’ most important player on offense for quite some time. Elliott will be given around 300+ carries per year as long as he stays healthy and continues to prove he can carry the workload.

In just 10 games, Elliott nearly had 1,000 yards and nine total touchdowns, giving him similar numbers to his 16-game pace from his rookie season. Now that the legal issues have subsided with Elliott, the Cowboys can get back to working with him without distraction.

For this team to be at their best, they will need to continue to feed Elliott throughout the game. They got away from that in the red-zone and in the second halves of games last year. That cannot continue if the Cowboys want to get to where they want to go to.

Verdict: On roster - Starting running back

Rod Smith: Smith was an exceptional find for the Cowboys, showing his talents as a runner and a blocker. To give Elliott less reps, the Cowboys would be wise to use Smith to give Elliott a break on occasion going forward.

Verdict: On roster - Backup

Trey Williams: An undrafted player out of Texas Tech, Williams could be a nice piece for this offense in a Lance Dunbar type of role if he has a productive training camp. However, at 5-foot-7, 195 pounds, it is hard to see a bright future in Dallas. This year could also be the year where the Cowboys draft another running back to add another element to their offense.

Verdict: Off roster - Cut/Replaced by a draft pick

Keith Smith (FB): Just because fullbacks have gone out of style in the NFL does not mean Smith has not been useful in Dallas. One of the better fullbacks and capable of playing multiple positions and making catches in the receiving game, Smith is definitely one of more underrated players on this roster.

Verdict: On roster - Starting fullback

Wide Receivers

Dez Bryant: Probably the biggest question mark this offseason is if Bryant returns in Dallas in 2018. To me, Bryant’s issues have stemmed from a lack of game involvement, weird gameflow, and uncharacteristic instances.

However, the Cowboys are paying Bryant a lot of money and if the front office wants to bite the bullet and ultimately release him, they could. But by doing so, they would be wasting a lot of money and losing a player that still has star potential at the age of 29.

Verdict: On roster - No. 1 receiver

Terrance Williams: Many questioned the contract the Cowboys awarded Williams a few offseasons ago, but he is now confirmed, at least for the time being, as the team’s No. 2 receiver. The good thing about Williams is his underrated blocking ability. However, his biggest concern is his catching ability.

Despite multiple seasons under his belt in the NFL, Williams is still catching passes with his chest. Regardless, Williams has a lot of experience in this offseason and until someone proves consistency, his job will be secure.

Verdict: On roster - No. 2 receiver

Cole Beasley: Despite taking a step back in 2017, Beasley should continue being a productive contributor for the Cowboys. At the age of 28, the Cowboys will be paying Beasley handsomely for a receiver who primarily does all of his work out of the slot.

While many believed the Cowboys drafted Beasley’s replacement in Ryan Switzer in last year’s draft, the reality is that Beasley is still an extremely important part of this team’s passing game. It would behoove the Cowboys to get Beasley more involved early in games this season to open up the outside for Bryant.

Verdict: On roster - Slot player

Ryan Switzer: Mainly playing the team’s kick and punt returning role in 2017, it should be interesting to see what the Cowboys do with Switzer going forward. There will be some clamoring to get Switzer and Beasley on the field together to create matchup concerns. But with Beasley’s contract up after 2018, that is when Switzer could take on a bigger role here.

Verdict: On roster - Occasional receiver/special teams player

Noah Brown: In terms of what he has done, Brown has not really done anything special. He caught just four passes in his rookie year, but he saw the field a decent amount for a player of his draft status and age. At the age of 21, Brown has youth to go along with a unique combination of size and speed. Without Brice Butler in Dallas, Brown’s role in the offense will most certainly go up.

Verdict: On roster - Backup receiver

KD Cannon: The former Baylor product was signed by the Cowboys towards the end of the season. He fell out of favor with three teams prior to signing with the Cowboys, so this could very well be his last chance to make it. He faces a stacked depth chart in front of him, but he was known at Baylor for his deep speed.

Verdict: Off roster - Practice squad

Lance Lenoir: Despite being a name that is not quite household, the Cowboys are clearly big on Lenoir. A practice squad darling, his age doesn’t help him at 23, but he is extremely athletic for a guy his size. We will get a better understanding of how the Cowboys view him this offseason as training camp nears.

Verdict: Off roster - Practice squad

Brian Brown: Another receiver who has been practice squad guy for the Cowboys, Brown has similar size to Lenoir, but he does not have as much experience with the team. Plus, his prospects do not help him as he is already 23 years old.

Verdict: Off roster - Cut

Tight Ends

Jason Witten: Of course the progression is inevitable, but Witten has said that he has no plans on retiring. At the age of 35, Witten is under contract through 2021. Dallas should look into the idea of grooming their tight end of the future.

All signs originally pointed to Rico Gathers, but there has been a hiccup in that progression. Nevertheless, Witten can still be productive, but the Cowboys have to just plan better with how they use him.

Verdict: On roster - Starting tight end

James Hanna: A blocking tight end that has plenty of athleticism, the Cowboys should utilize Hanna more in the passing game. Dallas used sixth-round pick on him in the 2012 draft and he has failed to receive a bigger role outside of being primarily a blocker. Hanna will be entering the last year of his contract in 2018.

Verdict: On roster - Blocking tight end

Geoff Swaim: Another player who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2018 is Swaim, who the Cowboys traded up for towards the end of Day 3 in the 2015 draft. Swaim has been relegated to only being a blocking tight end.

Verdict: On roster - Blocking tight end

Rico Gathers: With so much athleticism and potential, there has definitely been a lot of buzz surrounding the former basketball player. However, he has been unable to harness that potential, leading to him being somewhat of a waste of a pick. The potential is still there, but he needs to realize it and overcome injuries to get on the field and stay there.

Verdict: On roster - Backup

Blake Jarwin: Another tight end whose strength is in the running game, the Cowboys are committed to tight ends like this with their offensive focus. But Jarwin could very well be relegated to the practice squad due to the number of players in the group already.

Verdict: Off roster - Cut

Offensive Tackles

Tyron Smith: Widely known around the league as one of the best tackles and perhaps the best run-blocking left tackle, Smith is most definitely a household name. The only concern with Smith is if his back holds up.

We saw in the second half of this season how stagnant and inconsistent this offense can be without his ability to use his athleticism to get to the second-level of the defense. Whether it is taking an approach similar to Romo’s practice off days or something else, the Cowboys need to come up with a plan that allows Smith to be on the field consistently on Sundays.

Verdict: On roster - Starting left tackle

La’el Collins: It is still amazing how the Cowboys were able to sign Collins at the end of the 2015 draft. Collins would have been a first-round pick, but his name was linked to a police investigation of death to a women with whom he used to have a relationship.

Collins’ versatility has allowed the Cowboys to move him around. Once Doug Free retired after the 2016 season, the Cowboys used him at right tackle. There were good times and bad times with him there, but he was good for the most part. Dallas should be excited to see him at the position with another year under his belt.

Verdict: On roster - Starting right tackle

Chaz Green: Once Smith went down with injury, many thought that maybe Green could stop the bleeding. But the exact opposite happened. Smith was slow everywhere off the ball and got absolutely destroyed by Adrian Clayborn.

Sure, some of it could be placed on the Cowboys’ coaching staff and their inability to patch up for his weaknesses, but this is a guy the Cowboys invested a third-round pick in. Looking back, drafting Green in that position definitely has its questions.

After his performance against the Falcons, this may be the year where the Green experiment could be over. Dallas will be in the market for many guys across the offensive line this offseason and there may just not be space for Green.

Verdict: Off roster - Cut

Jarron Jones: A converted defensive tackle, Jones may not have the most certain future with Dallas, but he is a project that they clearly wanted to see. Without that much depth under contract, Jones could prove his worth in training camp.

Verdict: Off roster - Practice squad

Offensive Guards

Zack Martin: It is almost crazy to think that the Cowboys could have drafted Johnny Manziel instead of Martin in the 2014 draft. Fortunately they didn’t as Martin has blossomed into one of the game’s best guards in his four NFL seasons. In terms of people who are next up to receive long-term deals, Martin tops the totem pole.

Verdict: On roster - Starting right guard

Kadeem Edwards: Spending much of the year on the practice squad, Edwards is a guy that has not done much in Dallas. However, he was promoted to the active roster towards the end of the season. Similar to the offensive tackle position, the Cowboys do not have many guards under contract, so Edwards could end up staying for the season.

Verdict: On roster - Backup

Centers

Travis Frederick: There may not have been a better first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft than Frederick. Dallas traded back in that draft and still managed to get one of the best centers in football. Frederick has been nothing but consistent and crucial for the Cowboys’ front.

Verdict: On roster - Starting center