It is a different season for the Dallas Cowboys in a very welcome way. While still early, they are clearly in the driver’s seat in the NFC East. Both collectively and individually, the rankings and analytics show them near the top in a variety of measurements. A schedule that always looked a bit less than intimidating seems to just be easier as the Cowboys show unexpected strength while some coming opponents face unaccustomed struggles. There is one difference this year in particular that is also rather weird. At a time when injuries are starting to drag rosters down, as the New York Giants can attest, Dallas is in a very strange position of becoming stronger and deeper as the big list of players who have been dealing with injuries and one much discussed suspension start to come back.
Here are the notable names that could be suiting up in the next few weeks:
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence
- RT La’el Collins
- CB Kelvin Joseph
- WR Michael Gallup
- S Donovan Wilson
- DT Neville Gallimore
- DT Trysten Hill
- TE Sean McKeon
It’s all good news. Or is it? Our Tom Ryle and Terence Watson have thoughts.
Tom: How valuable is continuity? I am rather big on that, but something has to give as these players start to claim spots on the 53-man roster. Terence Steele has been a very pleasant surprise at RT, but Collins will push him into a swing tackle role. Collins is also going probably going to have a little bit of adjustment after sitting out five games. Lawrence is outstanding, but you wonder about how that may shift some of the chemistry for a defensive line that is starting to get real pressure on the QB, even if they are not sacking them a lot. Gallup is likely to take opportunities from receiver/runner/passer Cedrick Wilson. The safety trio of Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee, and Malik Hooker have been doing so well, you wonder whose snaps Wilson takes. Everybody is clamoring for Joseph to supplant Anthony Brown, but Brown has been having a much better year than most credit him.
Tell me I’m overreacting. Please.
Terence: I agree, continuity is a big reason for the Cowboys’ unlikely success on the defensive side of the football. But some of these returning players are better all-around players than who the Cowboys currently have on the field and having them back on the field can only boost the confidence of a Cowboys team many thought would suffer from their losses. Lawrence and Gallimore on the defensive side of the football would have a positive impact on the defense in two ways. Lawrence commands the respect of opposing offensive coordinators which will only help the already dangerous Randy Gregory rushing the passer. Then you have Gallimore’s ability to play the run and affect the quarterback in the pocket which boosts this defense's chances of making plays in the backfield on running backs and passers. On the offensive side of the football moving Steele to the Cowboys’ swing tackle position isn’t a bad thing. It really gives the Cowboys more depth at the position, and Collins, who you’re right could have some rust on him, is still the better player overall. As for Gallup’s return, the Cowboys offense has been explosive at times but not as explosive as when their real deep threat was on the field with CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. Other players on this list, like Joseph, Hill, and Wilson can all be rotated in much like defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been doing already.
Tom: You’ll notice I didn’t have any qualms about Gallimore coming back, because the thought of him lining up next to Osa Odighizuwa is just delectable. And I will admit that you always want to have the best talent on the field. I feel talked down off the ledge there.
But now there is another issue. There are still only 53 roster spots, and someone currently holding one will have to go for each of the players. That seems almost cruel, as everyone but Ty Nsekhe and Cooper Rush has been getting valuable experience. That means there will have to be some real roster manipulation to not risk getting players signed by other teams.
That does mean one of the players I listed may never make it back after all. I’m just not convinced that Trysten Hill is absolutely an upgrade over anyone they are deploying in the middle of the defensive line. I know he is eager to get back on the field, but it is entirely possible that he will spend the entire year on PUP and get to try and come back next season. I could also see them trying to get some kind of trade value out of him, although I am not sure what that might be.
As for the others, here is a list of some possible players they might have to worry about, and some IR stashes are definitely in play.
WR Malik Turner and OT Brandon Knight are players they might risk trying to get through to the practice squad. You can probably include RB Corey Clement there if they are really willing to roll with just two backs on game day.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle is the obvious move for McKeon to come back, but he also is likely to make it to the PS without getting poached.
On defense, Azur Kamara and Maurice Canady seem the most vulnerable to being replaced. However, Kamara is one who might need to suddenly develop some turf toe or something for an IR stash. I think he already has shown enough to interest other teams needing help with a rotational pass rusher. Word that Dorance Armstrong was not a participant in the first practice of the week could be something to pay attention to. It could change the calculation here.
If they want to go another direction, they might keep Knight and move on from Nsekhe. He also might be a good option to go fishing for a trade. There are certainly teams that are looking for any kind of solution at OT.
That still seems to leave them one short. I really don’t know where they go for that one. There is always a chance some real injuries could make choices for them. On Wednesday, Kazee seemed to incur a hip problem, so that will have to be watched - and could hasten the decision on Wilson. Fortunately, the returns seem like they will spread out a bit, so they don’t have to figure it all out at once.
Terence: I can see them holding off on bringing Hill back to the 53-man roster. He is coming back from a bad ACL injury but I can also see them dangling him out there as trade bait (cough Las Vegas Raiders) because of the play of Osa Odighizuwa. I can also see them moving on from Ty Nsekhe via trade as well and I agree Cory Clement could go. The same goes for Jeremy Sprinkle who has helped out but isn’t going to give the Cowboys the amount of production that McKeon can. So right there we have four players that the Cowboys could look to move on from and they are all players that wouldn’t really affect the team's continuity as we touched on before.
As for the rest well, it’s like you alluded to earlier, maybe Wilson and Joseph aren’t able to get back to full health a bit longer. You know how those groin injuries tend to be nagging or reoccurring injuries for players throughout the season. Then all that’s left for the Cowboys to decide is will Cooper Rush hurt the development of Will Grier and if so bye-bye. Also, is it time to part ways with Dorance Armstrong via a trade with all of the young pass rushers they currently have on the roster? This is the perfect time to try and gain some draft capital for next season.
Tom: The only thing I think we can be certain about is that there are a lot of dominoes to fall yet. This is going to be something that will keep us watching.