Most training camp battles are about new players trying to make the roster. Much of the focus is on UDFAs and late-round picks. Established veterans are secure. For most teams, so are the high-dollar free agents they acquired during the offseason. Things are a bit different with the Dallas Cowboys. They have only signed three outside free agents, and all were on low-cost contracts that make releasing them palatable. We have seen players like that never make it out of training camp with Dallas before, the most recent being Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. This looks like another year that could happen to at least one. It might even happen to all three. Here are the reasons.
Quick, how many of you had forgotten he was even signed? Don’t be ashamed if you are one. He is a fullback, and that is his biggest problem. There is no assurance that the team will even carry a FB on the roster. If they do, Nall will have to then beat out Nick Ralston for the job.
Frankly, it is very unlikely that the staff will elect to use a roster spot on a fullback. More probable is that they would use the RB3 to fill that role in the rare occasions they want one. Or they can motion the tight end over to lead Ezekiel Elliott into the hole. With the promised increase in using Tony Pollard, that is how most two RB sets are going to happen. For a long time Dallas had bucked the trend of the disappearing fullback role. They managed nicely last year without one, only using Ralston in four games as a special teams contributor. Most of the season they were content to only have three running backs active. There just does not seem to be a viable role for Nall. He only had 83 yards from scrimmage during his three seasons with the Chicago Bears. There is not a lot he can offer the offense, barring a move to go with more old style I formation looks. Hearkening back to the past is not the way we hope to see this offense go under Kellen Moore. None of Nall’s one-year contract was guaranteed, so releasing him would be a freebie. I expect the staff to take that one.
With the unsuccessful attempt to re-sign Randy Gregory, Fowler made a lot of sense as an insurance signing that paid off - pending the draft. But the team then got Sam Williams in the second round. While evidence from OTAs and the one-day minicamp is scant, he has flashed signs of being a very good pick to fill in the RDE spot. Further, the team re-signed Dorance Armstrong to a two-year deal. Armstrong had a good year for Dallas in 2021, notching five sacks. That was third on the team behind unicorn Micah Parsons and Gregory, who just had one more. Armstrong also had 37 tackles, 12 QB hits, and returned a fumble 37 yards for a TD. Further, Chauncey Golston, a third-round pick in ‘21, was starting to turn up as the season progressed. He only had one sack, but contributed 32 tackles. The Cowboys are nearly certain to keep him given what they spent in the way of draft capital. Tarell Basham is also back after getting 3.5 sacks and 39 tackles.
Fowler’s 2021 stat line with the Atlanta Falcons was 4.5 sacks and 36 tackles. While Dan Quinn may have hopes of recreating his best performance in 2019, that happened while Fowler was with the Los Angeles Rams before joining the Falcons. Quinn may be the an advocate for Fowler, but he is going to have to beat out someone unless the team elects to go very deep at the position. With Parsons serving as a pass rusher on many plays, with devastating effect, that is questionable. His contract is no protection, since the $1 million dead cap is more than offset by almost $2 million in savings if he is released. This one may come down to the wire in camp.
He seems the most likely to make it out of camp in light of Michael Gallup’s injury status. Depending on how you view rookie Jalen Tolbert, Washington should be penciled in as WR2 or WR3 to start things in Oxnard.
What remains to be seen is how much of his decline the past couple of years with the Pittsburgh Steelers was due to the deterioration of Ben Roethlisberger. Washington only had one good season, 2019. Last year he only caught 24 passes for 285 yards.
We all know that the Cowboys like their own guys, which means Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko are clearly competition. That would only be five WRs, which would appear to make Washington safe even if he is passed on the depth chart. The threat he has to worry about is the annual summer romance we have with UDFA wideouts. Dallas has four on the current roster, and Ty Fryfogle is already getting a bit of buzz. Another player who garnered some attention during the OTAs was T.J. Vasher, a 2021 UDFA who missed all season on the NFI and COVID 19 lists.
Washington has a target on his back, with a bunch taking aim. His one-year deal was fully guaranteed, but the dead money hit for releasing him is only a tick over $1 million. If a couple of the challengers rise up in camp and preseason games, that is not too much to stomach. With Amari Cooper gone, the staff is going to looking hard for the best weapons to put on the field with Dak Prescott. Washington has to avoid stumbles to stick.
Given that free agency has to date been even more an afterthought than usual for Dallas this year, it should not be surprising that all of their signings have to look over their shoulder. They all will need to overcome challengers or just the construction of the roster to make it to the fall.