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For the Cowboys, it’s time to churn

The 53-man roster has been set - for the moment.

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Could a call-up be in store for Cedrick Wilson?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys’ regular season is for real now. Saturday was the cutdown to 53, and the regular season roster has been set. Of course, there is exactly zero chance that this is the exact same group that will be available when the New York Giants come to town to kick things off. Churn is real for Dallas and all of the other 31 franchises. Some of that is due to last minute contract negotiations and trades, to the rules involving injured reserve, the fact that hundreds of players just were waived or released, and the simple reality that the team can have second thoughts about a player or two.

All of those could come into play for Dallas in the next week. Some are more likely than others. Here are the biggest moves that we are likely to see.

The return

We may be nearing the end of the Ezekiel Elliott holdout, as there are multiple reports that the two sides are working on resolving the issues in getting an extension done. And the moment that is wrapped up, there has to be a move to clear a roster spot for him. Many believe that the team will release Alfred Morris, perhaps with an intent to bring him back after week one, when the veteran contracts are no longer guaranteed.

But there is another possibility that may be more likely - and it is coming up next.

Injured reserve

The Cowboys have already placed a bunch of players on IR. However, going on IR before the roster cut deadline means that those players are done for the year. Current IR rules allow teams to bring two players who go on IR after they have made the 53-man roster back once they have spent at least six weeks on the list. If Dallas has any players that it thinks could come back, but need some time to recuperate from whatever injury put them on the list, they would do so between the cutdown and the first game.

There has been a lot of speculation about a couple of players who could wind up in that situation for the Cowboys. The first is guard Connor McGovern, the team’s third-round draft pick. He was hampered by a pectoral injury for almost all of training camp, and then re-injured himself after being cleared to practice. He only got in a couple of days of work before going out again, and of course he missed all the preseason games. It seems a sure bet he will wind up on IR.

And that is probably how the team clears that spot for Elliott. They carried 11 offensive linemen on that initial 53, and that is extremely heavy.

The other player that many expect to join McGovern is Luke Gifford. The UDFA linebacker was very impressive before being injured in preseason. The plethora of reports that he would make the 53 just to get IR’d seem to have come from information the team gave many reporters. It is a smart move to protect a player that could be poached and who could still contribute later in the year. To replace Gifford, the team has a variety of options. It could bring back Jordan Phillips or Nate Hall, two other UDFA LBs that had a very good preseason. Chris Covington could also be brought back. It could put in a waiver claim or go after a released veteran. And it could go short at linebacker and use the spot to shore up another position. It is worth keeping in mind that the first iteration of the roster only had 24 offensive players and 26 defenders, so this might be a chance to balance things.

There is also an outside chance that Donovan Wilson, who injured his ankle, could wind up on IR. However, the comments from him and Stephen Jones would indicate that he is more likely to spend a week or two on the inactive list healing up, as the injury does not seem too serious.


The Cowboys went long on both lines. In addition to the 11 offensive linemen mentioned above, they kept six DEs and four DTs. Both lines are seen as very deep. That is a luxury most NFL teams don’t have (ask the Houston Texans).

There are two names from the offensive unit that jump out. Brandon Knight, a UDFA guard, was a surprise inclusion. The team also kept Adam Redmond. That means, even with McGovern likely headed to IR, they have a surplus of interior linemen. And there are teams with definite needs there. It would not be at all surprising to see Knight or Redmond, or both, flipped for future draft picks or even players. And one of them might make the team comfortable in putting Xavier Su’a-Filo on the block, although that is a much less likely path. Of course, if there is no offer the team finds attractive, they could still carry 10 total offensive linemen into the season. Depth is always valuable.

In the past, the Cowboys have also been quite willing to make trades to acquire players. This just seems like something that is not going to be required this year, at least for now.

Someone from another team that is now available just looks better

With so many players hitting the waiver wire and free agency, it would not be surprising if the team found what they think is an upgrade over one of their current players. That would appear less likely this season than in the past, since the entire roster already looks stronger than it has in decades. But that may not be the way the staff views things. Not to pick on the player, but Darian Thompson is one name that could fit this scenario. The team just might see a better option at safety, or even a cornerback that would be of more value, shifting the allocation of roster spots. It could happen at several places - my blue-and-silver colored glasses just make it hard to discern.

The reality is that the Cowboys almost always make a move or two like this. Churning the bottom of the roster with free agents is something that goes on throughout the year.

Inevitably, there is also going to be a need due to injury. Hopefully it will not involve one of the big names, but it has to be faced. That is an involuntary type of churn that takes place without warning. Of course, that is a situation that does not affect the next couple of days.

In any case, the roster that exists now will undergo evolution. The team also will be building a practice squad, which serves as a ready reserve as well. Change happens, and we can only hope it is fairly minor.

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