There seems to be a consensus in NFL media this year: the Dallas Cowboys have a deep and talented roster heading into training camp. A couple of position groups are being hailed already as having the best depth in the league. The team has very few questions that might be hard to answer, with the biggest being who will wind up as the backup to quarterback Dak Prescott. And when that is your biggest concern, there are a lot of good things going on.
The flip side to that is about numbers. 90 players are currently on the roster, and the team continues to be optimistic about Randy Gregory getting back in the fold at some point. He is reportedly making his case for reinstatement on Monday. Given his talent, the team would be thrilled to get him back in uniform. But that is already a crowded defensive end room. Something has to give there, and a lot of other places, to get down to 53. There are going to be some good players who won’t make the cut. Here is a look at some of the best that find themselves on a bubble where they would not have been in past seasons.
Four veterans are likely vying for three jobs behind Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Michael Gallup. It is almost certain that at least one of Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, and Cedrick Wilson will not survive. Wilson is perhaps the most vulnerable, since he has to prove himself just like a rookie after missing the entire 2018 season on IR. But Austin faces a distinct challenge in running back Tony Pollard, who potentially can fill all the roles Austin has plus serve as a traditional back. Hurns still has to show he is fully recovered from his own severe injury, and Brown has to establish exactly what his role would be. The team could carry seven receivers by going short somewhere else, but that is doubtful. Even if they did go very long at WR, that extra spot might be used to keep one of the very speedy options like Jon’Vea Johnson.
It’s going to be a tough call.
The Cowboys could go with eight or nine linemen. Assuming Travis Frederick does not suffer a setback in his recovery, the starters are set, and Cameron Fleming and Joe Looney are too good to jettison. Connor McGovern will be kept because of both his talent and draft position. That leaves Xavier Su’a-Filo on the bubble. He is not exactly a star player, but he did start eight games for Dallas as they worked through some injuries and growing pains with Connor Williams.
We know that DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the planned starters. Taco Charlton gets a ton of criticism for his lack of progress to date, but the team is highly unlikely to part ways with the former first-round pick.
Two players who looked good in the admittedly not very telling OTAs were Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong. But one might have to give way if Gregory does indeed come back. The question of a possible suspension for Tyrone Crawford complicates things, since his absence, if even for one game, would buy some time for one, but when he is on the roster, his position flexibility could push someone off. It is something of an embarrassment of riches for the Cowboys, which is great for the team, but rough on players.
Again, we know that Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods should start. Trysten Hill was the first pick made by the Cowboys due to not having a first-rounder. Crawford also factors in here. That means that free agent pickup Christian Covington has to have a good camp and preseason to crack the lineup. He was, like Hyder, misused in his last stop. A year ago, Covington would probably have made the roster with no problem. But now, he could wind up with a short stay in Dallas.
Jourdan Lewis has always been a misfit for the Kris Richard mold of corner, but he hung on last year through pure talent. Now he has to fend off draftee Michael Jackson. The team could go with five to keep Lewis on the roster, but with the need for slots at other positions like the defensive line, that may just not be in the cards. Lewis would be a bit of a surprising cut, but he cannot afford to stumble.
Xavier Woods is the best they have, and Jeff Heath is too popular with the coaching staff to lose his roster spot. The team is reportedly high on Donovan Wilson, despite him being a sixth-round pick. That probably puts George Iloka and Kavon Frazier vying for one spot. The team got Iloka in free agency as insurance, but that hardly weds them to him. Frazier has the advantage of being a real force on special teams, so Iloka is also going to have to show he belongs.
It’s a topic that we hate to consider, but it is all but inevitable that one or more of the questions listed above will become moot when a player gets hurt. You can’t protect everyone, and even veterans have to have a certain amount of work unless they too are coming back from injury. Camp and preseason games are vital to evaluate the new faces. That means a level of risk and this is the most unpredictable part of things.
We aren’t talking about elite players, but there are some pretty good footballers in this discussion that are going to fall prey to the numbers game. It is the unfortunate result of having done so much to build better depth. A few of the players mentioned still have practice squad eligibility, but there are a lot of other names, like Jalen Guyton and Mitch Hyatt, that the team would likely want to try and stash, so that may not be an option even for some who could go to the PS.
The picture will also clear up a bit as practice and preseason reps pile up. It is logical that some may not be what we hope they are, and fall by the wayside. But this looks like a year when some of the cuts are going to be a bit painful.