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Four pressing roster decisions facing the Cowboys ahead of cutdown day in the NFL

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The Cowboys will have some tough decisions to make at the end of the week.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With roster cuts just days away, the Cowboys are soon going to be faced with some very tough decisions. How they come to these decisions will undoubtedly have ripple effects that follow. Let’s break down four of the more pressing issues to figure out:

Short-term IR for Travis Frederick, Joe looney, & re-tooling the OL

Each case of Guillain-Barré syndrome is going to be different and that’s why there is no immediate timetable for Frederick’s return. Now, it has been determined that his case was caught and treated early, which shouldn’t put his long-term career in jeopardy. That doesn’t change the fact that the Cowboys should prepare as if Frederick will miss at least the majority of this season.

What’s most likely to happen is that they will keep him on the active roster for the first week of the season and place him on their short-term IR list. This would give them until halfway through the season to make a final decision if he’s going to return or not.

The impact for Travis Frederick’s absence all depends on how confident they are in Joe Looney. At this moment, they seem very confident in Joe Looney and he has only fortified their confidence with how he’s played this preseason:

So far, so good for Jumbo Joe but he now must grasp the magnitude of his role in this offense. Looney will be expected to make the calls at the line and help out rookie left guard Connor Williams. Though the Cowboys are feeling comfortable with Looney, that same sentiment cannot be extended to their backup offensive line as a whole. We can expect the Cowboys will be making some calls because they’re not going to allow last year’s struggles carry over to this season.

Lance Lenoir is not a roster lock as a sixth wide receiver

I’ve long trumpeted keeping as many receivers as possible even considering seven at one time. If anyone has convinced the organization to keep more receivers, it has been Lance Lenoir. He’s been outstanding, making eye-popping catches in just about every practice of training camp. With that said, what value does he brings to the 53-man roster as the sixth receiver? Let’s concede the floor to our good friend, Joey Ickes:

To make the back end of an NFL roster, there is a popular phrase thrown around: “The more you can do.” Well, Lenoir is a liability on special teams where he muffed two punts against the Cardinals and one cost them seven points. The week prior, Lenoir called for the fair catch at his own seven-yard line when he could have let it go. It also doesn’t help when Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley can return kicks too. Two preseasons in a row, we’ve seen that Lenoir has no value to the special teams unit. He is strictly a receiver on offense which isn’t ideal when you need to get the most out of every roster spot.

Lance Lenoir is firmly behind the likes of Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Tavon Austin. There is nothing to Lenoir’s game that isn’t covered within those five names ahead of him. If they are going with six receivers, are we completely certain that the Cowboys won’t give the nod to Deonte Thompson? Sure, he played in 10 snaps against the Cardinals and did nothing but we’re hearing rumors that they haven’t soured on him yet:

The Cowboys like Thompson’s size, his experience with Sanjay Lal, his extra gear of speed, and his special teams abilities. Lance Lenoir has been training camp’s one-man highlight reel but it’s not just about the 53. He hasn’t done enough to make the 46 and what purpose does he serve being inactive each week? With the Cowboys’ needs at other positions, it’s not even necessary to keep six receivers. At the end of the day, if they really like Lance Lenoir, they can most likely place him on their practice squad:

Cowboys are in a mess at safety and the Earl Thomas ship might have sailed

The Cowboys defensive scheme puts a lot of pressure on the free safety to perform which is why most fans were hoping that the Earl Thomas dream would come true. In reality, the Seahawks are calling his bluff and it’s not likely to seem him forgo $8.5 million to sit out in 2018. So, the Cowboys are still where they have always been and the recent hamstring injury to Xavier Woods only exacerbated the issue. It didn’t help matters when Kavon Frazier popped his shoulder out of socket against the Cardinals. The Cowboys are flirting with disaster and they surely know it’s going to be of high importance at roster cuts:

The safety position has seen a major decline in value this offseason where even the best available got no more than a three-year deal worth $12-16 million. That’s likely due to the overwhelming amount of strong safeties there are vs. actual single-high free safeties. Even the free agents that were classified as free safeties were not scheme fits according to the Cowboys.

Jeff Heath has the speed and range to cover on the back end and that’s the best they can hope for at free safety for now. They can keep circling the wagon for Earl Thomas but they need to accept that he’s probably not getting dealt. Heath is their only safety with starting experience and if Frazier is all clear for week one, that will be his first start. None of the undrafted rookies really make you feel any better either. At roster cuts, the Cowboys must address safety and it’s looking like they may need more than one.

Rico Gathers deserves fair consideration to make the roster

The Cowboys don’t have a complete tight end and there are only a few of those left in the league. Geoff Swaim’s position is safe because he’s the only tight end with any game experience, albeit limited. It’s looking like the team will only carry three tight ends and for months the conclusion has been that Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz will be the others. Well, maybe the Cowboys shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the possibility of keeping four and giving Rico Gathers a chance.

Jarwin and Schultz haven’t done enough to separate themselves on the depth chart this preseason. Jarwin has six receptions for 38 yards and has played in 48% of the snaps on offense. Schultz has six receptions for 32 yards in 44% of the snaps. Rico Gathers leads the team in receiving with eight receptions for 71 yards on just 28% of the snaps. Gathers continues to make the most of his limited opportunities and has earned more consideration.

The NFL is about taking advantage of whatever mismatches you can create for the other guys. Nobody gives the Cowboys a better red-zone mismatch than Rico Gathers and that should count for something. We’ve heard all the stories about Rico’s inconsistencies on assignments but Jarwin and Schultz have blown their fair share too. These tight ends all have a lot of development ahead so it’s time for the coaches to develop them.

They can find a decent blocking tight end at roster cuts but he won’t have the playmaking potential that Rico has. If the coaches can’t seem to find snaps for a playmaker like Rico Gathers then that’s an indictment on their ability to embrace creativity.