We still have over a month to go before the Dallas Cowboys start the regular season. But already there are some significant questions developing about who they will have on the roster for the opening game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first preseason game at the Denver Broncos is this Saturday, and performances in that and the subsequent two will add valuable data for these decisions. Here are some positions that will bear watching very closely.
Yes, we start with the low hanging fruit. Frankly, it is past time to have done something as Jonathan Garibay can only be described as choking in camp so far. But Lirim Hajrallahu has not exactly set the world on fire with his own performance. The Cowboys need to replace Garibay with a free agent kicker. The competition should continue, but Garibay is not providing any at all. This should be a move that happens sooner than later. We will have to see if the brain-trust understands.
This is a situation that is really the opposite of kicker so far in camp, as multiple WRs have really shone. But there is an additional component to this, and that is how the team handles Michael Gallup. He is currently on PUP as he continues his recovery from last year’s injury. If the team leaves him on PUP, he does not count against the 53-man roster, but has to sit out at least the first four games. The team could think he could come back earlier. While that may be attractive to try and get the best talent on the field possible, it means someone that has done so well in camp would have to be cut.
The player that this most likely affects is UDFA Dennis Houston. While he has been getting first team reps at times, the team might be more inclined to trust Semi Fehoko or even T.J. Vasher for their time in the organization. Further, they will likely carry KaVontae Turpin as a WR, even though his main reason for making the team is to return punts and kickoffs. There are only so many spots to go around. They have to figure out how many they can use up for receivers.
The team should probably leave Gallup on the PUP list to make sure he is fully recovered and has time to get back to football shape. They should then carry six receivers, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Tolbert, Noah Brown, Fehoko, Houston, and Turpin. Fehoko or Houston might have to be inactive on game days, but Turpin provides some intriguing depth with the offense to offset that.
There are a couple of problems here. Right tackle Terence Steele has not had a good camp, getting beaten regularly in pass protection. And backup or swing tackle is a real question, with Josh Ball the presumptive leader for that job. He also has been jobbed by the admittedly good looking pass rush.
It’s likely the final answer here is not yet on the roster. While the pickings are slim in free agency, it is time for Stephen Jones to drag out some of that dry powder and sign someone. Not only would a veteran give some insurance as a backup, they might even find someone who could challenge Steele for the starting job. He could then become the swing tackle, which might be his best fit. This is big, because Dak Prescott is the most important player on the team and he needs the best protection they can put in front of him. The return of his mobility does help mitigate things a bit, but it is far better to stymie pass rushers than force him to evade. According to the team, the running game is going to be very important this year. That also means they need to have good tackles. This one is going to be worrisome, not only through the end of camp, but possibly well into the regular season.
How many pass rushers can they carry?
Roster building is always a numbers game. Go heavy at one position, and you have to take a spot away from another. One place Dan Quinn really likes to load up is the defensive line. It is hard to see them carrying more than four defensive tackles. Last year, they carried eight or nine defensive linemen total as injuries dictated things at times. That means five looks like a likely number for defensive ends. That is going to be a hard call. It’s a good thing, because it indicates some depth. Also, Micah Parsons is a cheat code since he will be carried as a linebacker. But with Sam Williams looking very good in practices and DeMarcus Lawrence a given, they will have to figure out who to keep of Dorance Armstrong, Chauncey Golston, Tarell Basham, and Dante Fowler. Stephen Jones is very proud of the Armstrong re-signing, and unfortunately that carries a lot of weight in Cowboys roster decisions.
The team loves developing young players like Golston, so it looks like Basham or Fowler will be the odd man out. Both may be at risk if the team decides to just roll with four DEs. Look to those two veterans seeing a lot of time in preseason games as they seek to sort this.
Has DaRon Bland earned a spot?
The cornerback room may be the most talented on the team. Once again, it is a matter of numbers. You can write Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Kelvin Joseph down in ink for the roster. Nahshon Wright is one of the most improved players in camp and may well force his way onto the roster.
That is five, and pushing the limit of how many they can afford. In the past they have used one corner slot to carry special teams ace C.J. Goodwin. But this camp, Bland has impressed form the start. The fifth-round pick has been better than his draft position would indicate. Given that he would still likely contribute mostly as a special teams piece, he might be a direct threat to Goodwin, who has become something of a fixture. You always want those ST guys to also be able to step in as depth when needed. It certainly appears that Bland has made a case for himself to stick.
Finally, there is a real battle developing to be the one player we hope never takes the field when a game is on the line. After being QB2 last year, and notching a regular season start and win, most assumed Cooper Rush would more or less automatically retain the job. But Will Grier has forced himself into the conversation with a really good camp. If you want a reason to watch the Dallas preseason games, it is this competition. We may see a very limited sample of Prescott on the field, and there is an argument to be made for not risking him at all in those meaningless games, so whenever Ben DiNucci is not on the field, the QB position should be something to really keep in focus. More than for just about any other position, those preseason games could be the determining factor.
While there are other decisions to be made, these six seem the most crucial, and the ones that also are hardest to figure out at the moment. The next month will tell the tale. It looks to be a riveting one.