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Six candidates to be the 2021 version of Dontari Poe for the Cowboys

Every year, some veteran player doesn’t live up to standards and gets cut from the team. Who will it be in 2021?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team
We hope there isn’t a repeat this year - but odds are not favorable.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It has sadly become an annual tradition for the Dallas Cowboys. The team signs a free agent that winds up being a real flop, or a veteran just can’t cut it against new talent or due to a decline in his own performance. They make the roster to begin the year, but become a liability on the field. Midseason the team bites the bullet and releases them. Last season’s example was Dontari Poe. Many of us minimized the evidence that he was on the downslope of his career and thought he would really help shore up the interior of the defensive line, especially against the run. Things turned out just about the exact opposite, and he departed the team. We certainly hope that we will not see a similar case or cases this season. But the history with free agents in Dallas is not exactly a confidence builder.

One question that arises in these situations is why did they even made the 53-man roster in the first place? In Poe’s case, it was to try and buy time for rookie Neville Gallimore to develop. Even third-round picks like him often need some time to adjust to the NFL game. He did so, and once the staff felt it was ready to depend on him, Poe was gone.

There are several candidates for this dubious distinction with the Cowboys this year. This is not at all a wish for any of them to depart. It is just a look at some players who could be really at risk.

OT Ty Nsekhe

Although he seems to be much better at his job than Poe was in the last couple of years before joining Dallas, he is still 35 years old. That is an age where the drop off the cliff can come suddenly. He also has a very interesting career path, having done time with five different “minor league” pro football teams and a stint on the practice squad for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. He also had six different stops in the NFL, including two with the Washington Football Team, before landing with the Cowboys. He is in a crowded tackle room, including two starters from the injury plagued 2020 season and two draft picks. There are just a ton of similarities to Poe that put him on this list. He could well be seen mostly as a bridge to give a younger player time to develop as a long-term answer as a backup tackle.

WR Noah Brown

Brown started to show something last season, and could become a real factor with a resurgent Dak Prescott. But he is the WR5, and that always puts him at risk to be supplanted. This is a case of his experience getting him onto the roster for the season, but the team could stash a promising WR on the practice squad to supplant him. They could also go with six WRs to start the season, and decide Brown is expendable if they need an extra roster spot somewhere else around the end of October.

DT Carlos Watkins

In his case, there are two rookies that could threaten him, perhaps in combination. Osa Odighizuwa could well have a trajectory like Gallimore’s, necessitating keeping Watkins around until Odighizuwa is ready to step up. And Quinton Bohanna might be a practice squad stash as the team gives him some time to develop. The two seem likely to go hand-in-hand, although the uncertain situation of just how the defensive linemen will line up complicates things, and some other players could be part of the equation.

DE Bradlee Anae

DE Dorance Armstrong

This is obviously a bit different, because the two are likely competing for the last EDGE spot on the roster. Whoever makes it to the regular season could then become expendable later on. If the team releases Anae during the final cuts, then gets him on the practice squad, he could come back to haunt Armstrong later.

S Jayron Kearse

This may be reading too much into the reports out of the OTAs, but he has one real worry come midseason, and that is UDFA Tyler Coyle. It is hard to imagine that the staff would be comfortable with carrying Coyle over the veteran early on, but a couple of months on the practice squad could change that calculation. Kearse may also face the biggest challenge on the field. He simply does not have the value of Demontae Kazee, who is expected to start at free safety, and lacks the pedigree and history with Dan Quinn that Keanu Neal has. Kearse is going to have to take every opportunity to prove he deserves to be on the roster all the way through the regular season.

The positive note here is that these are possibilities, not projections. Maybe all will avoid Poe’s fate. Some may not make it to the regular season at all. Still, they are names to watch as the games pile up.