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The Cowboys’ roster cupboard is rather bare before free agents are signed

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They have a lot of cap space to work with, and decent draft capital. They will likely need it all.

NFL Draft, Day 1
Lots of work to do.
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The coaching staff is nearly complete for the Dallas Cowboys. Next up is putting together the roster for Mike McCarthy’s inaugural season. They have some decent resources to work with, as Over the Cap shows them with $81 million in cap space, and they will be picking at the number 17 spot in the draft, with seven overall picks after trading away their sixth-rounder for Robert Quinn, but expecting a compensatory fifth-round pick for Cole Beasley.

They may need all of that and more, because there are currently some gaping holes on the roster. Several of them are expected to be filled before free agency starts as they re-sign some of their own, but until those signatures are on the contracts, nothing is assured.

To figure out where they have to go in free agency and the draft, we need to start with a look at where they are. Here is a position-by-position look at every name currently under contract (again, taken from OTC). Note that quite a few of these are on futures contracts, and will be fighting for a spot assuming they even make it all the way to camp. One thing that jumps right off the bat is that there are only 47 players currently signed in total. That is less than normal for this point, so there is going to be a lot of action getting up to the 90 man preseason roster limit. Also, there are some notes on how severe the need is for each position and likely paths to fill each.

Quarterback

  • Clayton Thorson

This seems less than optimal. Of course, the elephant in the Star is the pending Dak Prescott contract. The team will sign or tag him, and the latter would hopefully be just to use until a long-term deal is hammered out.

What that still leaves is backup quarterback, and obviously the team needs to add at least another arm before camp. Could the team bring back Cooper Rush? He is of course familiar with Kellen Moore’s offense, but is that really significant with McCarthy coming in? The Cowboys could go any direction, bringing Rush back, signing a veteran backup, or using a late round draft pick.

Running back

The Cowboys went the entire season with Elliott, Pollard, and Olawale as the only backs, and Chunn in reserve. A back would likely be acquired only for depth, and those can be found, well, anywhere. A low cost free agent, a late draft pick, or a UDFA are all possible. If Raheem Mostert can be the hero of the AFC championship game, using a lot of resources to get a new one looks a bit silly. Besides, the Cowboys already have sunk way too much into one contract on this list.

Tight end

  • Dalton Schultz
  • Cole Hikutini

Tight end is suddenly a big need. Blake Jarwin would be a logical target to bring back, hopefully at a reasonable cost. Jason Witten, frankly, should not be. That still means that TE is going to be a priority. McCarthy likes to use tight ends as pass-catching weapons, so free agency and the draft could both be used to fill out this group.

Wide receiver

  • Michael Gallup
  • Noah Brown
  • Devin Smith
  • Tevin Jones
  • Cedrick Wilson Jr
  • Lance Lenoir
  • Ventell Bryant
  • Jon’Vea Johnson

We expect that Amari Cooper will be brought back in. McCarthy may also campaign to try and re-sign Randall Cobb. There’s no reason to dip into free agency outside of them. But as usual, the draft should have plenty of WR talent. Even if Cooper and Cobb are back for the fall, you really can’t have too many good receivers.

Then there is the X, Dez Bryant has been publicly campaigning for a chance to come back, but that would seem to be a very long shot.

Offensive tackle

  • Tyron Smith
  • La’el Collins
  • Cameron Fleming
  • Brandon Knight
  • Mitch Hyatt
  • Wyatt Miller

With the way Collins came on last season, and Smith having a good year, it is not inconceivable that Dallas rolls with this bunch, with maybe a late rounder or UDFA thrown in.

Guard

  • Zack Martin
  • Connor Williams
  • Connor McGovern
  • Cody Wichmann

This needs to be fleshed out before camp, frankly. Again, any premium draft pick or high-cost free agent seems unlikely.

Center

  • Travis Frederick
  • Marcus Henry

Missing this year is Joe Looney. The team should definitely be interested in trying to work out a new deal with him before he hits the free agent market, but he might want to find out what the demand is for a player who started the entire 2018 season and can back up all three interior line positions. Yeah, that might price him out of the Cowboys’ range.

Defensive end

  • DeMarcus Lawrence
  • Dorance Armstrong Jr
  • Joe Jackson
  • Jalen Jelks

It would be great to bring Robert Quinn back. It also would almost certainly cost way more than Dallas can really justify. This is a pretty high need for the Cowboys. Look for them to spend a pretty high pick as well as do some serious shopping in free agency. It would be interesting to know if they are at all interested in returning Kerry Hyder, who seemed to have a decent season in limited action.

Defensive tackle

  • Tyrone Crawford
  • Trysten Hill
  • Daniel Wise

Antwaun Woods and Michael Bennett are in the same category as Quinn. Be great to have another year or two, don’t know if the price is reasonable. There is also a Hyder equivalent in Christian Covington. The Cowboys hate to use a lot of draft capital or free agent dollars on this position.

But that was before Mike Nolan. A serious course correction may be coming.

Linebacker

  • Jaylon Smith
  • Leighton Vander Esch
  • Chris Covington
  • Luke Gifford

If Sean Lee or Joe Thomas want to come back on favorable deals, that would be good. But linebacker is one of the key special teams resources, and with the problems STs had last season, this is another position where volume is very important. Don’t be surprised at the team using all avenues at hand to bolster the LB corps.

Cornerback

  • Chidobe Awuzie
  • Jourdan Lewis
  • D.J. White
  • Deante Burton
  • Chris Westry
  • Donovan Olumba

Lotta numbers. Lotta unknown or uncertain quantities here.

Obviously, the first thing to be dealt with is Byron Jones. If the team can work out something with him, then the need becomes far less pressing. Even if he is back, corner is one position where it is never a bad idea to use a high draft pick. And if things don’t work out with Jones, that is money that can be used in the free agent market here. (But it really should be paid to Jones.)

Safety

  • Xavier Woods
  • Donovan Wilson

Yikes. Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier are both hitting free agency. That leaves this perhaps the most desperately needed position. If only the Cowboys had a chance to address this last year with a talented second-round pick.

Oh. Whoopsies.

In any case, this is another place where Dallas has been highly averse to investing a lot. That also needs to change, stat. Adding some real spice to things is the not-so-subtle flirting of Jamal Adams. He is still under contract with the New York Jets, but it is only for a year and would cost just hair over $7 million for 2020. The Cowboys need to at the very least do some due diligence on what the Jets would demand for him. I expect the cost would be far too much, but it is a question that must be asked.

Specialists

  • Chris Jones

I’m pretty sure the team really wants to give Kai Forbath a shot to compete for the placekicking duties after his extended and very successful on-field tryout. Compete would be the operative word there. There would be no problem with bringing L.P. Ladouceur back if he isn’t ready to hang it up yet. He would be an automatic name for the 53-man roster given that he still has yet to make his first bad long snap.

The rather serious need for defensive tackle and safety help has already been mentioned, but it is worth circling back to before closing this up. Those are arguably the two biggest needs in the draft, unless some surprising acquisitions (like Adams) happen first. You can add tight end to that equation. This is going to be a real test of just how the approach to the draft could change with new voices on the coaching staff. There is evidence that the aversion to drafting those positions high comes from Stephen Jones, but it may also have been influenced a lot by the past regime. It definitely needs to change.

So that is a look at where the roster stands. The needs are many and great, although some can be addressed quite well from the players currently set to enter free agency. Still, with 43 slots to fill in the coming months, this promises to be a riveting offseason.