The Dallas Cowboys are less than two weeks from making their final roster cuts for their 53-man roster. Of course, “final” isn’t really the right word to use since the roster is ever-changing, especially considering how teams typically make last second adds after other teams release certain players. Nonetheless, it won’t be much longer and we’ll get a good glimpse of this 2019 squad.
The Cowboys have a deep roster this season, and it’s going to be extremely difficult to cut it down to just 53 players. Even with the potential help of temporarily available spots thanks to Robert Quinn (suspended), Randy Gregory (suspended), Connor McGovern (injury), and Luke Gifford (injury) - it’s still really going to be tough to let some players go.
One of the things that typically get overlooked in roster decisions is players that bring great special teams value. And that’s an area that may even be more critical this year because the team lost two of most active special teams players from a year ago - Damien Wilson and Rod Smith. The Cowboys are going to have to make sure that they have adequate replacements on the roster. But with a roster so deep, can they afford to hang on to players that really only have special teams value? Or is it possible they can get special teams contribution elsewhere from players who also contribute on offense or defense? Let’s take a look at some of the team’s top special teams players and determine just how valuable they are.
Everyone loves Frazier for his special teams value. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s such a great high-character guy. He was called on to play defense the first couple weeks of last season when Xavier Woods was recovering from injury, and it didn’t always go so well.
Kavon Frazier is a special teams ace, but would you feel comfortable with him filling in at safety? pic.twitter.com/IRLBKO3tJG— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2019
Once Woods returned, Frazier almost never saw the field on defense as he had 10 games last season where he played one snap or less on defense. That’s largely attributed to the reliability of Woods and Jeff Heath to hold down the position, but one has to wonder just how comfortable the team feels about calling his number. Both Darian Thompson and George Iloka are better options at the safety position, and both of them can play special teams. And despite still having a lot to learn at the safety position, rookie Donovan Wilson provides some nice special teams value as well.
PREDICTION: Released. It just doesn’t seem worth it to burn a roster spot for a one-trick pony like Frazier when more versatile options are available.
Over the last two years, the linebacker formerly known as March-Lillard has provided the team with special team contribution as 97% of his snaps have come in those situations. He played in just eight defensive snaps last season, with seven of them coming in the Cowboys Week 1 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. They used March in that game as they eased in rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch who saw a season-low 17 snaps in that game. As we all know, it didn’t take long for LVE to get acclimated, and his snaps got ramped up in a hurry, sending March back to strictly a special teams player.
March is now buried even further behind a deep linebacker group, and the Cowboys would have to be hit hard before calling upon him to play defense. And that’s a good thing because he it’s not always pleasant when he has to tackle people.
Justin March is a special teams ace, but would you feel comfortable with him filling in at linebacker. pic.twitter.com/uf7HRsEf96— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2019
With young developing linebackers like Chris Covington and Luke Gifford showing improvement, it seems more beneficial to keep them on the roster over March. Sure, March is a good special teams player, but both the youngsters are seeing action on special teams as well and they may be just as good, if not better, before too long.
PREDICTION: Released. The team may hang on to him initially due to health at LB, but don’t be surprised if he’s cut early in the season.
People tend to forget about Goodwin as someone who makes the team, but the coaching staff loves what he brings to the table as a special teams player. The team signed him off the Bengal’s practice squad last year, which put him on the Cowboys active roster by Week 6. Unfortunately, he was only able to play a couple weeks before suffering a broken forearm that caused him to miss a couple months on injured reserve. He only saw 53 total snaps, yet all but three of them were on special teams.
The Cowboys have a strong group of four cornerbacks, so Goodwin isn’t a guy who would be expected to see a lot of action on defense. He’s in a battle with Donovan Olumba and rookie Mike Jackson for the backup corner spots, but this is going to be a tough call for the coaches come roster cut time. While Goodwin is a special teams ace, the other two cornerbacks offer greater upside for the future in terms of playing the corner position.
Prediction: Makes the team. Of all the special team aces who may be asked to play defense, he’s presents the least amount of risk.
When the Cowboys acquired Olawale from the Oakland Raiders last year, it seemed like a pretty low-cost upgrade over their previous fullback Keith Smith. The Cowboys essentially exchanged their fifth-round pick for a sixth-round pick last year to get him. And when you considered that Smith had zero carries and just five catches during his last season with the Cowboys, Olawale had much more appeal. Over his last three seasons with the Raiders, he racked up 77 touches for 544 yards and five touchdowns. Certainly, he was going to add some spice to the fullback position, right?
Wrong. Olawale did a whole lot of nothing last year in terms of offensive production. Like Smith the year before him, he never carried the ball. He had only two catches out of the backfield. And he was used sparingly as a blocker as he was only in on 10% of the offense’s plays, leaving some to wonder - what’s the point?
Olawale is a good special teams player, and that alone might not be enough to hold down a roster spot, but the Cowboys appear to have bigger plans for him. Earlier this year, they signed him to a three-year, $5.4 million deal, which doesn’t reflect a player who gets no carries, plays minimal on offense, and is used primarily on special teams. It might’ve been a head-scratcher had it not been for how he’s now being utilized in Kellen Moore’s offense. He’s getting carries in short yardage situation, and they’re swinging the ball out to him on the flat. Is it possible Olawale is used as an offensive weapon this season like he was in Oakland?
Prediction: Lock to make the team. There might’ve been some good arguments to make against him based on how he was used last season, but positive changes appear to be on the horizon.
It’s easy to want to move on from a seventh-round wide receiver that offers no reason for excitement, especially when there are far more breathtaking choices fighting for a roster spot. Fortunately for Brown, he’s been able to hang his hat on his versatility. Not only is he a pass-catching option, but Brown is an excellent blocking receiver which has been valuable for the team’s rushing attack. He’s also a big contributor in special teams as he’s one of the top five used players when he’s healthy.
Unfortunately, health has not been his friend recently. He missed the first half of last season with a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. He’s currently dealing with a knee issue and his status remains up in the air.
Making matters even worse for him is the rise of a couple young receivers in Cedrick Wilson and Devin Smith. Both of those players offer the Cowboys a lot more in the passing game. They also both can play special teams as Wilson has been used as a kick/punt returner and Smith as a gunner. Brown’s unavailability has now put his roster spot in question.
Prediction: Unsure. He may end up being an IR candidate to allow him time to recover from his knee injury.
Some will suggest that these guys are safe because of what they give the team on special teams, but that might not be the case. The Cowboys value versatility and that shows up in their draft process. They have a slew of quality special team candidates. Even important starters are asked to contribute. Byron Jones and Leighton Vander Esch were both All-Pro’s last year, yet they finished sixth and eighth respectively in snaps on special teams. Even the team’s dynamic young playmaking running back is throwing his body into people on special teams.
Can you guess which player made this flying tackle down the sideline? Hint: he was the game's leading rusher and scored a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/jfXArOEneg— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2019
This team has options.
The Cowboys have positioned themselves to where they can fill their roster with important players who can do more than just play special teams. It might be the end of the road for some of these guys whose sole purpose comes in the kicking game.