We are a week away from when NFL teams will cut their rosters down to 53 players as they prepare for the 2022 season. It’s always a fun exercise this time of the year to put together what we believe will be the final roster of the Dallas Cowboys. There will be plenty of that going on around the internet over the next week. Before you sit down in your thinking chair and think, make sure you have a good feel for what teams typically do at roster cuts as oftentimes there are patterns we can learn from. Today, we offer up six factors to keep in mind when configuring your 53-man roster.
There will be just two
Some teams keep two quarterbacks, some keep three. The determinant is whether or not a team is keeping a developmental quarterback on the roster. When the Cowboys drafted Ben DiNucci (2020) and Mike White (2018), they stashed them as their third quarterback. The Cowboys don’t have a development guy this year who warrants holding a roster spot, so they should be rolling with just two guys that will come from either Cooper Rush or Will Grier.
Running backs matter, but not to Dallas
Running back is a grueling position and many teams keep four of them on the roster to give themselves enough depth. However, the Cowboys are a little different. In three of the last four years, the Cowboys have only kept two running backs, including last season when they started the year with just Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. They do sometimes keep a fullback if a player like Jamize Olawale or Rod Smith also brings special teams ability to the roster, but they don’t currently have any fullbacks on the roster.
Right now, there’s a good battle for the no. 3 running back between the incumbent Rico Dowdle and the new UDFA rookie Malik Davis. Some have even toyed with the notion that they might be wise to keep four running backs because of how good Davis has looked. But are these guys really that good to occupy a roster spot? If Dowdle and Davis don’t make the final cuts, the Cowboys will try to get them on the practice squad. And while we are always worried about players not clearing waivers, most actually do.
Save a little room for outside players
Not only do the Cowboys have to release enough players to get down to 53, but they might need to go even further than that. Every year the team goes after a player from another team who was cut and they’ll be scouring the waiver wire again this year. And we should also consider that they could go after a free agent, like say, a veteran swing tackle? Wherever they come from, there are always bonus players who are added to the roster at the last minute.
Linebackers are always plentiful
This is something that fools us almost every year. We’ll stack our players based on talent alone and then forget that NFL teams hang on to extra linebackers. It’s always more than we expect. Would you believe the Cowboys kept eight linebackers on the roster at final roster cuts a year ago (Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Keanu Neal, Jabril Cox, Luke Gifford, Azur Kamara, and Francis Bernard)? They also kept seven back in 2018. So, if you’re torn between a player like Luke Gifford or Devin Harper, don’t sweat it because they’re both probably making the team. Teams go deep at LB because many of them core special team contributors, which brings us to...
Special teams can punch your ticket
We absolutely cannot forget about key special team contributors. If you’re puzzled why the team hangs on to Noah Brown, think special teams. Or if you’re always forgetting to account for C.J. Goodwin on the roster, think special teams. It’s easy to brush these guys aside when you’re stacking up the positional rankings, but some of these guys are too valuable in the kicking game and are actually a lot safer than we realize.
Ties go to the youngsters
It might seem strange to see a seasoned veteran get released at final roster cuts when they seem more game-day ready than a rookie who made the team, but unless the talent gap is meaningful, it’s always better to keep the younger player. First off, the youngster offers the potential to grow into a better player and give the team upside whereas a veteran’s ceiling is rather apparent. Additionally, a new guy offers player control where the team holds his services longer at a low cost. Keeping a handful of those players makes the books happy, so if you encounter a roster battle that is coming down to the wire, give the advantage to the young guy.