On Tuesday the NFL and NFLPA agreed to completely get rid of the preseason for the 2020 season after initially considering playing just one or two games. In addition to trimming the training camp roster maximums to just 80 players, this will have a significant impact on how teams evaluate their players and make final cuts.
For the Cowboys, with an almost entirely new coaching staff, all they have to go off of is how players perform in training camp and any preexisting film on the player. The lack of in-game experience from preseason games will hurt some players, but could actually help these five players.
FB Jamize Olawale
When Jamize Olawale joined the Cowboys prior to the 2018 season, some had high expectations for the fullback based on his production in Oakland. Through two seasons, though, it hasn’t been the case. Olawale has rarely seen the field, and when he does he’s usually used solely as a blocker. Perhaps his most memorable moment with a star on his helmet thus far was his dropped touchdown catch that would have saved Dallas from being shut out by Indianapolis in 2018.
Needless to say, Olawale’s roster spot was no guarantee this year. Mike McCarthy has shown an affinity for using talented fullbacks frequently, especially John Kuhn; in eight seasons for the Packers, Kuhn tallied 601 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, 550 receiving yards, and eight touchdown catches. McCarthy and Kellen Moore will likely be looking for a fullback that can regularly contribute in more ways than just blocking.
Olawale flashed that potential in Oakland, but because he’s struggled to replicate it thus far, Dallas brought in competition this year in the form of undrafted free agent Sewo Olonilua. At TCU, Olonilua split carries at running back with Darius Anderson (also an UDFA for Dallas), but his bigger frame projected him as a fullback in the NFL with the potential for use in a wide variety of ways.
The expectation from some was that Olonilua would showcase his abilities well in preseason games and earn the job as the Cowboys’ fullback over Olawale, but the lack of preseason games means less opportunities to show what he can do in live action. Since Olonilua didn’t exclusively play fullback at TCU, his projection to the role required the kind of tape you get from those preseason games, so losing those opportunities boosts Olawale’s resume considerably. It could be the difference maker for him.
WR Cedrick Wilson
Barring something catastrophic, we know the Cowboys’ top three receivers will be Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. After that, though, it’s a toss up. Aside from those three, there are nine receivers on the roster vying for potentially just two or three spots. The preseason traditionally helps UDFA receivers the most, because a player can light up a box score against inferior opponents and earn themselves a spot, but that won’t happen this time around.
This all but ensures a spot for third-year pro Cedrick Wilson. After a season-ending injury in training camp spoiled his rookie year, Wilson went back and forth between the active roster and practice squad in 2019. With a lack of preseason games hurting the chances of UDFA receivers, Wilson’s established experience with Dak Prescott and his familiarity with Moore’s offense gives him a leg up on the competition.
DL Tyrone Crawford
Tyrone Crawford is recovering from hip surgery that ended his 2019 season in October, but has also spent much of the offseason being rumored as a potential cap casualty for the Cowboys. While he’s made it this far with the team, his job was anything but safe heading into training camp.
It’s unclear to what extent Crawford would be able to participate in camp and preseason games, but even if he’s a full go he’ll have some competition. Between free agent signees Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe and third-round pick Neville Gallimore, there’s not too many snaps to be had at defensive tackle while the edge spot opposite DeMarcus Lawrence is littered with contenders. There are seven different players also vying for snaps in that role, and a reinstatement of Randy Gregory would add one more name to a long list.
It’s entirely possible that a relatively overlooked player like Joe Jackson or Jalen Jelks could have broke through in preseason games and made a strong push for the final roster, and potentially prompted Dallas to cut Crawford given his age and contract status. But with no preseason games, Crawford’s value has gone up considerably because of his experience and leadership. He won’t be under the same kind of pressure he would’ve been had things progressed normally this year.
EDGE Aldon Smith
One of the edge rushers competing with Crawford for playing time is Aldon Smith. You’d think a player with as troubled a past as Smith has who hasn’t played in a game since 2015 would be questionable to of make the final roster, but Smith isn’t going to have that issue.
After going through rehab, doing charity work, and getting in some incredible shape while training with Jay Glazer, Smith is ready to make a comeback and Dallas is ready to give him that opportunity. Once considered to be an elite pass rusher, it’s uncertain how good Smith will be right off the bat.
But he’s clearly in good shape physically, and hopefully mentally, and is reunited with Jim Tomsula, his defensive line coach from his days in San Francisco. That relationship, along with the potentially high upside as a player, already made Smith a safe bet to make the roster. But now that the more unknown commodities won’t get a chance to perform in live game situations, it likely means an increased workload for Smith once the season starts.
DB Chidobe Awuzie
Chidobe Awuzie might be the least fortunate player for the Cowboys right now. Through three years at cornerback in Dallas, only two of which he played for a full season, Awuzie’s play has been slightly above average. But he’s had the distinct disadvantage of playing alongside shutdown cornerback Byron Jones and fan favorite Jourdan Lewis, so any mistake Awuzie makes is magnified by comparison to those two.
Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network recently wrote about how Kris Richard’s style of defense hampered Awuzie’s development the last two years, and with Mike Nolan taking over Awuzie has a chance at a fresh start. There are even rumors of Awuzie being moved to safety to better take advantage of his skill set.
Still, Awuzie’s future is very cloudy. Dallas drafted Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson, re-signed Anthony Brown, and added HaHa Clinton-Dix to the safety group. Awuzie will have to compete for playing time no matter what position he plays at, but there’s now an opening. Diggs is likely to start at one outside corner spot regardless, but the lack of preseason games hampers the chances for Robinson and others like newcomer Daryl Worley.
Nolan and defensive backs coaches Al Harris and Maurice Linguist may look to rotate Awuzie between cornerback and safety in a hybrid role, but either way it seems like they’ll look to rely on his veteran experience now that they won’t be able to get their rookies and new additions some action.