Every year we like to pick out pet cats for the Dallas Cowboys. For the uninitiated, the term is an old Bill Parcells one and referred to a player a coach likes for reasons that are at times unclear to everyone else. Around here, it has come to mean long shot players, mostly undrafted free agents, who we root for to make the 53-man roster. Everyone gets to pick their own, but when you do so, keep in mind what position they play. There are three of those the Cowboys will almost certainly fill with players who didn’t even manage to get drafted.
You may wonder why address this in terms of position, but the answer is simple. We just don’t have enough information from the OTAs to sort out things this early. That will happen in training camp. And these are the positions up for grabs.
Wide receiver is one of the most common positions on any NFL team for UDFAs to stick. It’s just that there are so many WRs on the roster. Five is pretty much the minimum for the Cowboys. With Michael Gallup expected to be out for several games, the team is hunting for wideouts to help a roster where only CeeDee Lamb and third-round pick Jalen Tolbert are sure things.
This is one position where there are multiple candidates. Ty Fryfogle was one of the few players to generate some buzz during the OTAs. While some might argue that he should make the roster on his name alone, which is a malapropism just waiting to happen, the data from the offseason practices was way too slim to get a handle on how this will shape up. Joining Fryfogle are fellow UDFAs Dontario Drummond, Dennis Houston, and Jaquarii Roberson. WR is always fun to watch in camp as there is so much back and forth as players have up and down days. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this quartet.
The Cowboys invested two draft picks in the position, but fifth-rounder Damone Clark is a future play as he is likely to miss the entire season recovering from the injury that pushed down to where Dallas could snatch him up. Devin Harper really looks like an insurance pick made with their last selection of the draft. Just like with WR, five seems the minimum for LB. Micah Parsons is phenomenal, but will be spending a good bit of time on his edge rushing side hustle. That leaves Leighton Vander Esch as the only experienced full time linebacker, and there is a reason he is playing on a one-year prove it deal rather than a fifth-year option as a former first-round pick. Jabril Cox only appeared in seven games last year as he had his own injury concerns. That makes him a largely unknown quantity. Luke Gifford has mostly hung around as a special teams player. Jayron Kearse will be coming down from his safety position to handle some of the linebacking duties, but that still leaves the team short. Aaron Hansford and Storey Jackson will be fighting it out to help round out the group. It is not inconceivable that both hang around as Gifford’s spot is not exactly rock solid.
Just like Parsons at linebacker, the heavy use of nominal safety Kearse to move up and handle linebacking duties on many plays means the team needs to flesh this out. Israel Mukuamu did not impress a lot in his rookie campaign. In his defense, the safety group last year was one of the best we have seen in ages for Dallas which limited his opportunities. Markquese Bell has perhaps the highest expectations of any UDFA with the team, and the path for him to make the roster is wide open. It didn’t hurt his chances at all when he had a 98-yard pick six in the OTAs. While special teams will also be a factor for him, he is one player who is a real threat to see a lot of playing time alongside Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson. His chances are just helped by the Cowboys eschewing their typical late-round pick on a safety this year.
All this is rather hopeful and optimistic. It is hard to break into an NFL roster when you weren’t even drafted. It is also a reality that teams, most definitely including Dallas, do not have enough good veterans and draftees to cover all the needs. These players all are at positions where that is in their favor. Some of them are quite likely to see their NFL dream become a reality. Pick your pet cats. Training camp is coming fast.