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Cowboys set for more roster churn than normal in 2022

Prepare for Cowboys camp battles!

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
There are a lot of decisions for the staff to make in camp this year.
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

It’s roster projection season! Now that the draft is done we can look at the players the Dallas Cowboys have under contract and start making our predictions about who will be on the 53-man roster to start the season. Most years, there are only about six or seven spots that cannot be confidently projected. There just aren’t that many meaningful camp battles - usually.

That looks to be a bit different this year for the Cowboys. The list of “locks” that can be easily identified is a good bit shorter this year. Here is my list of the players that are all but certain to make the team this year.

Cowboys roster locks

Position Lock Lock Lock
Position Lock Lock Lock
QB Dak Prescott Cooper Rush
RB Ezekiel Elliott Tony Pollard
WR CeeDee Lamb Jalen Tolbert Noah Brown
TE Dalton Schultz Jake Ferguson
OT Tyron Smith Terence Steele Matt Waletzko
OG Zack Martin Tyler Smith Connor McGovern
C Possibly open
DE DeMarcus Lawrence De Williams Dorance Armstrong
Chauncey Golston
DT Neville Gallimore Osa Odighizuwa John Ridgeway
Carlos Watkins
LB Micah Parsons Leighton Vander Esch Jabril Cox
Devin Harper
CB Trevon Diggs Anthony Brown Kelvin Joseph
Jourdan Lewis DaRon Bland
S Jayron Kearse Malik Hooker Donovan Wilson
Specialists Bryan Anger Jake McQuaide C.J. Goodwin

This assumes that Michael Gallup and Damone Clark will start the season on PUP as expected. Kelvin Joseph faces a possible suspension for the incident he was involved in this offseason, but until that becomes official, he is assumed to be part of the roster.

Only 39 names appear on this list, which means there are 14 spots up for grabs. It affects almost every position group. Here is the reasoning behind each one.

Quarterback

With no QBs added in either the draft or free agency, it appears the team is content to roll with Cooper Rush as the QB2. The Cowboys have gone with only two quarterbacks in recent seasons, so Will Grier is on the bubble.

Running back

Outside of the top two, the backup job is wide open, and here the team could go with as few as three and as many as five. They have seven total on the current roster. It is wide open, and the question of whether they carry a fullback is also on the table.

Wide receiver

With Gallup out, there are only three names that seem certain here, and that is counting Noah Brown. His experience will probably be the deciding factor. James Washington is not a lock, as he was signed for the vet minimum and could easily be cut.

This also reflects a bit of doubt about how secure Simi Fehoko’s position is. The team only spent a fifth round pick on him. Further, with Gallup expected to return a few games into the season, they could well start the year with just five WRs on the roster.

Tight end

Jeremy Sprinkle and Sean McKeon could both make the roster if they carry four, but there are inevitable trade-offs when deciding how deep to go at each position. If they only carry three TEs, those two are likely in a battle for that spot, and this could also be a place where a UDFA, Peyton Hendershop, becomes one of those surprise additions.

Offensive tackle

Matt Waletzko is a direct threat to Josh Ball. There have been comments about Ball being seen strictly as a RT. In any games Tyron Smith misses, which seems inevitable based on recent seasons, Terence Steele would have to switch sides. That seems less than optimal. If Waletzko establishes himself as a legitimate swing tackle option, the team could roll with just him as a backup.

Offensive guard

Tyler Smith was drafted to start at left guard, which bumps Connor McGovern to backup.

Center

Stephen Jones has already started talking up a fight between Tyler Biadasz and Matt Farniok for the starting job, and UDFA Alec Lindstrom has a nice pedigree. Even fellow UDFA James Empey may have been brought in to add to this competition. Farniok is probably the one name left off the list of locks that has the best odds, since he can back up at guard as well if he doesn’t win the starting center job outright. Still, this could go in any direction.

Defensive end

Like Washington, Dante Fowler doesn’t represent enough dead money if cut to make his job secure. Nor does Tarell Basham. With Micah Parsons so effective when used as a pass rusher, the team may elect to only carry five DEs, which would put Fowler and Basham in competition for the last spot. The team is likely keeping Golston as a young player with upside.

Defensive tackle

This is a make-or-break year for both Trysten Hill and Quinton Bohanna. There is probably room for five DTs at most, and the staff could go with just the four listed here.

Linebacker

Jayron Kearse often fills the role of linebacker despite being a safety, so the roster may be light here. There will probably be a fifth carried for special teams duties (which is what Devin Harper will mostly do) but Luke Gifford will have to hold off Aaron Hansford and Jackson Storey for that slot.

Cornerback

This is one position group that is probably set, although a Joseph suspension could open up a spot. C.J. Goodwin is technically part of this room, but his true role is as the ST ace.

Safety

This is a bit like linebacker, where Israel Mukuamu faces a couple of UDFA challengers for his place on the roster, most notably Markquese Bell.

Specialists

The team signed Jonathan Garibay with every intention of him winning the kicker job over Chris Naggar, but it looks like an open competition between the two going into camp.

This represents about twice the churn we normally see for the Cowboys in cutting down to the 53-man roster. We don’t know yet if the league will once again keep the expanded and more flexible practice squad rules. If they do, there are more opportunities to stash players there, particularly some of the more intriguing UDFAs. Additionally, there could still be some free agent signings that would add new names to the mix. In any case, this looks like a year when camp and the preseason games could hold have more drama than normal.