One of the most fascinating things about Dallas Cowboys training camp is looking for signs as to who will make the 53-man roster. We know who the majority of those names are already, but there are always a handful of spots that we have to see play out. We root for pet cats and look for exciting camp battles. Every year it seems at least one surprise will emerge - and it can be who gets released as much as who makes the cut.
That is the sometimes ghoulish part of predicting the regular-season roster. It means trying to figure out who will get the terrible news that they are not going to be part of the team. While it is rough for anyone, it has to be especially crushing for veterans who have already put in so much work for the team, even if it was mostly as a backup.
With all the new bodies added in the offseason, plus some notable coaching changes, here are a few returning Dallas players who need to make sure they stay on their toes to try and hang onto their jobs.
WR Noah Brown
Most of the names today are from the defense, but Brown is the one offensive player who almost everyone projects to make the roster who should really ignore what is being written about him in that respect. This is not to say he is not deserving of making the Cowboys’ roster, it is more about the nature of the position, especially in Dallas.
Simi Fehoko was drafted and looks to be a very interesting prospect. He is absolutely not a lock to make the roster, and the team can make room for him and Brown by carrying six. It makes sense to have an extra wideout with the importance of the passing game. Still, there are tradeoffs that have to be made every year when allocating roster spots among the various position groups, and going heavy on the offensive line in particular is a bit tempting after last year. That could cost a WR spot. Further challenging for Brown is that there seems to be a UDFA or otherwise unheralded wide receiver every year that grabs attention. Usually that comes to nothing, but not always.
It would still be a bit of a surprise if he got bumped, but hardly a major one. With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb all likely being kept off the field in preseason, Brown can best help his case by making Garrett Gilbert and the rest of the backup QBs look good every chance he gets.
DE Dorance Armstrong
This is one name that probably doesn’t surprise many, because he is frequently mentioned as the odd man out when final releases are made. His issue is that he has been serviceable for the most part, and that is what you call damning with faint praise. Now Armstrong has to impress Dan Quinn and Aden Durde, which means looking like more than just a usable warm body. He does have the advantage of Leon Lett being retained on the staff, but only if Lett is favorably disposed toward him.
His challengers are Bradlee Anae, Tarell Basham, Ron’Dell Carter, and Chancey Golston. Frankly, Basham and Golston are probably ahead of him already, and with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory the lead dogs in the group, that could put Armstrong and Anae in a real fight. Further complicating things is the expected use of designated pass rushers, which means that the linebackers’ role there has to be factored in when evaluating who is most valuable in the DE room.
This one is going to be tough. Armstrong did some important work, but the staff has to be looking for an upgrade. And it is hard to convince them that you are improved enough to do that yourself.
DT Trysten Hill
2020 looked like it was going to be a breakout year for Hill, who was maligned for his poor rookie performance the season before, but injury intervened. Now he is still coming back and may be a PUP candidate, although the team has not revealed any of the thinking on that. Hill needs to hit the ground running in Oxnard, because the Cowboys brought in a bus full of new DT talent. Osi Odighizuwa is going to make the team as a high draft pick, and Quinton Bohanna, Brent Urban, and Carlos Watkins could combine to threaten Hill’s job. If injury is still hampering Hill when camp convenes, he risks getting passed up. Being a former second-round pick will help him, given that certain people whose last name is Jones really hate to admit mistakes, but they might have changed somewhat after the Taco Charlton experience.
There is one way the team may try to keep Hill for another shot next year without having to keep him on the roster, and that is to put him on IR. His injury provides suitable cover for what is essentially a cheat, although the team does have to find room under the cap to do so. It is a trick that has been used across the league before many times and there is no real penalty for doing so.
In any case, Hill is also in the unenviable position of having to earn his spot all over again and, like Armstrong, will not really be much of a surprise if he is not on the 53-man roster.
CB Anthony Brown
This is one name that I debated having on the list. He is more solid than any of the prior players listed, but not enough that he can afford to become complacent. He is more valuable at his job than Armstrong, but not enough so that the staff would likely pass on what they saw as real upgrade.
Again, the team brought in new blood in Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright. Joseph will make the team due to his second-round status, and Wright not only is still a high enough pick to get some protection, he stood out to many observers during the OTAs. Additional threats come from Maurice Canady, who sat out last year under the COVID rules, and Reggie Robinson II, who has the extra motivation of being very much at risk of being cut. Like everywhere, this is a numbers game, and the team is also expected to use one of their CB spots for ST ace C.J. Goodwin. That puts a squeeze on Brown. If he is not one of the players who spends most of his time on the sidelines in preseason, it will tell us that the squeeze is real.
There may be some who expected to see Jaylon Smith show up on this list, but the linebacker room is just too thin to expect him to be cut this season. Additionally, he has a lot of support from ownership. That matters, especially when the owner is also the GM. Expect that the defensive coaches will get the assignment of putting him to more effective use, whether spoken or not. Don’t forget that he would carry a nearly $10 million dead money cost if released. It would take a massive failure on his part to not make the team.
These could be the most competitive camp battles. And the fight begins soon.