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Cowboys roster reset: Where they stand and how it affects the offseason

It’s finally time to look forward to free agency and the draft. First, though, we need to assess things like who is actually under contract now.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Some decisions are coming.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it is now over. The Dallas Cowboys had a thrilling season, but as it does for all but one team every year, it ended in disappointment. There are a ton of articles and posts out dissecting what went wrong in the loss to the Los Angeles Sean McVays (sorry, couldn’t resist). And they are filled with what can or should be done to fix things.

Jason Garrett has stated there are not going to be any major changes on the coaching staff, so the next order of business after that is sorting out is the roster. Free agency and the draft are still a ways off, but with nothing else to do other than burn certain offensive coordinators in effigy, they are soon going to be favored topics of discussion in these virtual parts. And to talk rationally about adding new players to the team, we need to examine what the roster looks like today.

Here is what I was able to determine from things like Over the Cap,, and a handy post on free agents by R.J. Ochoa.

Cowboys roster

Position Under contract (keeper) Under contract (compete in camp) Under contract (possible release) Free agent
Position Under contract (keeper) Under contract (compete in camp) Under contract (possible release) Free agent
QB Dak Prescott Cooper Rush
Mike White
RB Ezekiel Elliott Darius Jackson Rod Smith
FB Jamiize Olawale
TE Blake Jarwin Rico Gathers Geoff Swaim
Dalton Shultz
WR Amari Cooper Noah Brown Cole Beasley
Michael Gallup Allen Hurns Tavon Austin
Terrance Williams Cedrick Wilson
OT Tyron Smith Cameron Fleming
La'el Collins
C/G Travis Frederick Xavier Su'a Filo Parker Ehringer Marcus Martin
Zack Martin Adam Redmond Dustin Stanton
Connor Williams
Joe Looney
DE Randy Gregory Demarcus Lawrence
Taco Charlton
Dorance Armstrong
DT Tyrone Crawford David Irving
Antwaun Woods Datone Jones
Maliek Collins Caraun Reid
Daniel Ross (ERFA)
LB Jaylon Smith Chris Covington Sean Lee (retirement?) Damien Wilson
Leighton Vander-Esch Justin March-Lilliard
Joe Thomas
CB Byron Jones C.J. Goodwin Marqueston Huff
Chidobe Awuzie
Anthony Brown
Jourdan Lewis
S Jeff Heath Jameill Showers Darian Thompson (RFA)
Xavier Woods
Kavon Frazier
Specialists Chris Jones L.P. Ladouceur
Brett Maher
Total: 31 10 6 16

A couple of things to keep in mind: The allocation of names in the three columns for keeper, compete, and possible release is my opinion, and could easily differ from what the team does. And as you are all aware, the 2019 first-round pick is already on the roster in one Amari Cooper.

So let’s run down this, position-by-position, and see where the Cowboys need or want to act (again, in my opinion).

Quarterback: Starter is set, but the backup is going to be a competition in training camp. The team will at least want a fourth arm for camp, but won’t invest much to get it. Most likely will roll with a UDFA, although taking a late-round draft flyer on a QB is not a bad idea.

Running back/Fullback: Again, the starter is all taken care of. Beyond that, yikes.

Given how much emphasis Dallas places on running the football, they went very short during the season, and now they are down to two bodies under contract. They may want to talk with Rod Smith about a new deal, but it may be in his best interests to test the free agent waters.

This looks like a place Dallas may want to look in the draft. Given that good backs are available fairly deep since the position has been devalued in the NFL while it is still seeing a lot of talent at the college level, this is one place the Cowboys can probably do well.

Tight end: Jarwin and Schultz came on strong late in the season, enough so that the team doesn’t have to trot out Jerry’s checkbook to keep Swaim. As for the Rico experiment, I would pull the plug myself. It looks like a strong TE class in this year’s draft, and that should be a target for the second through fourth rounds.

Wide receiver: WR1 and WR2 look extremely solid. But then health becomes a concern. Hurns, Williams, and Wilson all wound up on IR, and Hurns has a long road ahead of him. Plus Williams had some, shall we say, interesting experiences off the field. If all are healthy, things will be in pretty good shape. But this is another area that needs some bolstering, and both second/third tier free agents and the draft should be in the mix.

Speaking of free agents, the Cowboys have to figure out if they want to offer deals to Beasley and Austin, and how much they are willing to pay. Both have also had their health problems the past season, and Beas quite frankly seemed to be overlooked this season. Expect at least one, and possibly both, to test the waters in free agency.

Offensive line: If, as expected, Frederick is healthy for next season and Williams benefits from a full offseason of weight work and conditioning, the line looks to be in good shape. While Smith and Martin both had some injury issues during the season, both were able to go in the Rams game, and should be ready for camp.

Interior line depth looks solid, with Looney and Su’a-Filo both accruing starting experience, while Redmond saw action and didn’t fare poorly. The one thing that needs some attention is tackle depth. Fleming remains an option, they could seek another veteran in free agency, and/or this is another place the Cowboys may want to look in the draft.

Defensive line: Lawrence is going to get paid. The Cowboys won’t let him get away, which means he is going to have a fat bank account given that other teams would gladly step up to the plate to secure him. Gregory is still on the upswing. The three DTs under contract had a pretty good year, too.

But you can never have too many pass rushers, or defensive linemen in general, in Rod Marinelli’s offense. And it looks like Marinelli will be back based on his remarks, with Kris Richard probably having to settle for a title like assistant head coach and money since he is not expected to get a head coach job offer. So this is somewhere the team will be looking at all options as well, including the FA tackles.

But not Irving. That ship has sailed.

Linebackers: Lee is talking with his family about whether he wants to return - and if you are at that stage, you are a lot closer to being out the door than otherwise. Of course, it may be a revolving door, and the thought of him joining the staff as a coach is most pleasing.

The Smith-Vander Esch pairing is one of the best in the league. Again, depth is a concern that will need addressing, although Thomas is probably very safe in his roster spot even if Lee does decide to stay on the field another year. Wilson would be nice to retain, but he is probably going to test the free agency market.

Secondary: All the starting positions are in pretty good to excellent shape. There’s even a little depth. Does this mean the Earl Thomas dream is dead? It does not seem a good idea to pay him the kind of money he wants at his age to come in and fill a job that was handled decently without him. Again, it’s just me, but the team may want to stay away from any top-dollar free agents here.

I may be misreading the value the team places on Showers here as well, but his days as a scout team whiz are probably behind him.

Prioritizing: So what does it all say about goals and objectives for the staff?

In free agency, Lawrence is job one. Outside of him, Ladouceur may be the next most valuable free agent to try and retain, and Reid is possibly next. Otherwise, the FAs are likely to be looking for jobs elsewhere, with the caveat that the team may try to re-sign either Austin or Beasley, but probably not both.

There is really no reason to spend big for outside free agents, even thought the Cowboys have the cap space to do so even after they take care of Lawrence and maybe extend some other players, like Prescott and Cooper. This will be the much-hated “plug holes” approach again, in all likelihood.

The draft will be interesting, even with Dallas sitting idle for the first day. Safety, linebacker, running back, offensive tackle, pass rusher, and slot receiver all look like good places to invest picks. Putting those needs in order will have to wait for whatever free agent signings are done, of course, but that is where to be looking.

One thing that looks to be true is that, once Lawrence is brought back into the fold, there is no need for any immediate starters to be found, at least until we find out how the health of some (particularly the WR group) holds up. That is a rare thing in the league in this era of free agency. This may be the closest to a true “best player available” draft we have ever seen. Note that I am not saying this is going be like the infamous 2009 “special teams” draft. If nothing else, the team now has Will McClay wielding considerable authority, and he is not going to waste picks the way Dallas did a decade ago. Plus, that was one of the worst draft classes throughout the NFL in history. There are some positions, like tight end, that look to be very strong this time around.

Things will change, possibly very quickly once all the exit interviews and final physicals are done. Stay tuned throughout the offseason as we see how the 2019 Dallas Cowboys take shape.

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