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Better or worse: Position-by-position review of the Cowboys roster changes

The question for today is simple: Did the team improve itself or not?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The most important goal of the Dallas Cowboys (and all other NFL teams) during the offseason is to improve the roster. That can include just not losing key players in free agency as well. Almost all teams think they have succeeded this time of year, but while some clearly do, others actually backslide. There are a lot of good feelings about the Dallas roster during training camp. Still, the focus has been largely on individual performances. Here is a big picture report card on how the team has actually done by position group, based on who was added and lost since last season. It also considers who was eligible for free agency, but was brought back into the fold. There are some UDFA names that don’t show up because they do not look to be significant factors in roster decisions.

OK, it’s my report card, so feel free to present your own case.

Quarterback

Loss: Cooper Rush

Addition: Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci

Key retention: Dak Prescott

We may have wanted a long-term deal for Prescott, but he is on the franchise tag and is therefore expected to be playing for a big payday. Rush is significant only because he left a hole at QB2, and Dalton is doubtless a far better player. And The Nooch has been a pleasant surprise who may have a future with the team.

Conclusion: We no longer have to worry about throwing in the towel if the backup needs to play.

Running back/fullback

Loss: Jamize Olawale

Addition: Darius Anderson, Rico Dowdle, Sewo Olonilua

There will be someone added from that trio of UDFAs the team picked up. We just don’t know who, or even how many exactly.

Conclusion: Not really changed talent wise. This position will be all about how they are used in the offense.

Tight end

Loss: Jason Witten

Addition: Blake Bell

On paper, replacing a presumptive Hall of Fame player with a journeyman is a loss. But Witten was hardly the player of ten or even five years ago. And the key aspect here is that Blake Jarwin, and perhaps also Dalton Schultz, can really blossom without Witten eating up snaps.

Conclusion: Better via addition by subtraction.

Wide receiver

Loss: Randall Cobb

Addition: CeeDee Lamb

Retention: Amari Cooper

We don’t even have to mention the holdovers that are showing real improvement. This is a big win for the Cowboys. That is in no way disrespect for Cobb, but an acknowledgement of just how much Lamb has exceeded the very high expectations for him. If the reports out of camp are at even close to accurate, we may have an offensive rookie of the year on our hands. Getting a new deal for Cooper was also a key step during the offseason that may have begun to fade from your memory.

Conclusion: Fire up the grill and let’s cook us some forty burgers.

Offensive line

Losses: Travis Frederick, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Cameron Fleming

Additions: Tyler Biadasz, Cameron Erving

Retention: Joe Looney, Adam Redmond

Frederick wasn’t 100% last year. And he was still one of the better centers in the league. Biadasz may eventually be a really good replacement, but even with the capable Looney on hand, the line has taken a step back. Redmond is not assured a roster spot, but is still in the mix for interior depth.

Conclusion: The Great Wall continues to erode, especially if the tackles don’t get healthy in a hurry. The question is just how much it is degraded, which could be a manageable amount, or a real problem.

Defensive end

Losses: Robert Quinn, Kerry Hyder

Additions: Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith, Bradlee Anae

Quinn was the sack leader for the Cowboys. That should be a problem. But nobody seems the least bit concerned, and for good reason. Griffen looks to be as good or better than Quinn, Smith has just been amazingly good for someone who was on an extended involuntary sabbatical from the game, and Anae has stood out quite a bit in practice and seems a good bet to outperform his draft position. This may be the most improved position room on the entire team.

Conclusion: Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of sacks.

Defensive tackle

Losses: Maliek Collins, Michael Bennett, Christian Covington, Daniel Ross

Additions: Dontari Poe, Neville Gallimore

Retention: Antwaun Woods

This would be better if Gerald McCoy had not been lost to a freak injury, but it isn’t bad at all as it is. Part of the reason is that Trysten Hill has looked so improved in camp, but this is more about the roster moves. And with the struggles in the middle of the defensive line last season, it is still something of a plus for the team just on that. It is especially good if Jim Tomsula uses Poe’s size correctly, and it certainly looks like he will.

Conclusion: A nice step in the right direction.

Linebacker

Losses: Ray-Ray Armstrong, Malcolm Smith

Addition: Francis Bernard

Retention: Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, Justin March

OK, how many of you remembered that the two losses listed here were even on the roster at the end of last season? Or those three extensions from the offseason? I’m not picking on anyone, because I didn’t. Those are the quiet but still important moves where the front office really earns its money. Meanwhile, Bernard is this year’s UDFA camp star and seems to have a roster spot all but locked up.

Conclusion: Yeah, the best thing for this group is that swap of MIKE and WILL responsibilities, but that is another topic. Bernard still makes this a small win for the team.

Cornerback

Loss: Byron Jones (sigh)

Additions: Trevon Diggs, Daryl Worley, Savion Smith

Retention: Anthony Brown, C.J. Goodwin

Again, those quiet re-signings may have eluded your recall. That’s understandable, given how major the blow felt from the team’s decision to not make a competitive offer for Jones. But Diggs, Worley, and Brown have all had good camps, with Diggs creating almost as much buzz as Lamb on the other side of the ball.

Conclusion: This may wind up being much closer to a wash than we could have hoped for.

Safety

Losses: Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier

Additions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Reggie Robinson II

Retention: Darian Thompson

Clinton-Dix has been a bit too quiet in camp, so much so that Thompson is being talked about as potentially taking the starting spot Clinton-Dix was presumed to be getting. And yes, Robinson was drafted as a corner, but several reporters state that he is being moved to safety, possibly because the CB room may be a bit crowded and they really want to have a spot for Robinson so he can contribute on special teams.

Conclusion: Probably not worse, but there’s not a lot of evidence it is any better.

Specialists

Loss: Kai Forbath

Addition: Greg Zuerlein

Retention: L.P. Ladouceur

We thought we finally had a public training camp kicking battle on our hands, rather than the secret one from a few years back. Then the team waived Forbath before things even got started and went all in on Zuerlein.

Conclusion: Greg the Leg is perfect in camp so far. Win.

Just to be more clear than my paltry attempts at being humorous may be, here is a summation of how the roster stands as camp begins to wind down.

Clearly improved

(Backup) quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, defensive end, specialists

Possibly better

Defensive tackle, linebacker

No real change

Running back, safety

Probably worse

Offensive line, cornerback

Again, the degradation of both the OL and CB positions looks to be less than it could have been, but we must face the fact that things went the wrong direction due to retirement and free agency. On the other hand, running back was a strong room last season, just not used as effectively as we think it will be under Mike McCarthy.

This is a better Cowboys roster overall. And just like with the RBs, the coaching for all positions is a different element entirely. It may be even more important than the talent upgrades.