HBO's Hard Knocks is where fans usually find drama regarding final roster cuts. Now it seems like teams across the league find new ways to stress out their fanbase. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception.
At first glance, the initial 53-man roster is a little puzzling. Luckily for the Cowboys, the front office seems to find any way possible to keep players on the roster who they do not want hanging out on the waiver wire. We'll get into that.
Let's start with three surprises from Dallas's initial 53-man roster for 2022.
1. One quarterback is enough...for now
Of course, the Cowboys will not be going into the season with just Dak Prescott on the roster. This maneuvering of a roster started during the 2020 season when an expanded practice squad was created to allow a team more players due to the pandemic.
All other quarterbacks from the preseason (Cooper Rush, Will Grier, and Ben DiNucci) were let go from the team. It is being reported that both Rush and Grier are coming back and will join the practice squad.
Cooper Rush and Will Grier are re-signing to the Cowboys practice squad. So three QBs in the building for Week 1.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 31, 2022
Last season, Dallas did carry three quarterbacks on their roster once Will Grier was picked up. Now, it seems like the team wants to go longer at more critical positions, like at wide receiver and the defensive line. That is why having three quarterbacks on the first day of cuts did not make sense.
On Wednesday, head coach Mike McCarthy said Cooper Rush is the backup behind Dak Prescott. Then why not just keep him or Grier on the roster in the first place? Well, it was a surprise to the front office that neither of them performed well enough in the preseason to lock up the backup role. They made that clear by outright releasing them, not worrying if a team would sign Rush or claim Grier off waivers. It is almost like they knew it would not happen.
Rush started and won a game last season against the Minnesota Vikings. However, the quarterback who played in that game did not ball out in any preseason games. Rush finished the preseason completing 17 of 31 passes with no touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 52.6.
Grier was getting hype during training camp practices, but once he got hurt before the Denver Broncos game, it was tough for him to play catch up. He finished the preseason throwing 18 of 32 pass attempts, two touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 94.0.
It is still essential to develop Grier on the practice squad because he did show flashes of being a capable quarterback in the NFL. Grier has more play-making ability and is the more athletic quarterback. However, Rush's familiarity with the offense gives him a leg up for being the backup all season.
Whether it is Rush or Grier behind Dak Prescott, this is probably the most uneasy Cowboy fans have felt about the backup quarterback position in a while.
2. Not having a veteran swing tackle on the team
The Cowboys front office seemed comfortable entering training camp with Josh Ball and Matt Waletzko as their swing tackles for this season. Fans have known about that for a while. Unfortunately, the surprise is it goes against everything we've learned about the team from previous seasons.
Here are a few examples of veteran swing tackle deals in the past.
- 2017 - Byron Bell; Signed a one-year $2 million contract
- 2018 - Cameron Fleming; Signed a one-year $2.5 million contract
- 2019 - Cameron Fleming; Re-signed for two-years $7.5 million (with an option for 2020 that was declined)
- 2020 - Cameron Erving; Signed a one-year $2.5 million contract
- 2021 - Ty Nsekhe; Signed a one-year $1.75 million contract
In 2016, the Cowboys did not have a veteran tackle on their team. They had former offensive tackle Chaz Green as the backup. Well, what changed between 2016 and 2017? Great question. It was the health of Tyron Smith.
Before the 2016 season, Tyron Smith only missed one game. During the '16 season, the former All-Pro missed three games. Jerry and Stephen Jones wanted to protect themselves and the team in case something happened to the health of Tyron Smith in the future. They were right to worry.
Since Dak Prescott's rookie season, Tyron Smith has missed 32 regular season games. It has been a constant battle year after year. So why fight the precedent the Jones' set for themselves the previous five seasons? To develop the young players on the roster? Fans are not buying it.
Tyron Smith will now add to his 30-plus total after his injury last week in practice, and Dallas is not prepared. Stephen Jones did say that the future of left tackle may be here sooner than expected in first-round draft pick Tyler Smith, but he has taken little to no snaps at left tackle in training camp. Tyler Smith was playing left guard and is now dealing with a high ankle sprain, according to Jerry Jones.
As of Wednesday, there are reports that long-time Philadelphia Eagle Jason Peters will visit the team. Peters started 15 games at left tackle with the Chicago Bears last season on a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. That's an asking price right in the wheelhouse for the Jones family.
Maybe Tyler Smith's ankle injury is more severe than expected. Perhaps the team was bullish to believe Tyron Smith could get through an entire season without missing time. The bottom line is not having a veteran swing tackle on the 53-man roster before training camp ended was a surprise given the Cowboy's history.
3. Protecting the youth of the team
The Dallas Cowboys love to keep the players they have drafted on the roster.
I don’t know if I have the time or desire to count this up for every team and compare, but …— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) August 30, 2022
Mike McCarthy always says “draft and develop,” right? 49 of the current 53 players either were drafted or signed as rookie free agents by the Cowboys. That’s kinda wild to me.
Rob Philips of Dallascowboys.com did correct himself and stated the actual number is 46. Still, that is an impressive number. It shows the team's high level of confidence in their scouting department and ability to draft.
They did release veterans like Jake McQuaide, C.J. Goodwin, and Brett Maher, which allowed them to keep players like Dennis Houston, Devin Harper or Luke Gifford, and John Ridgeway. It is unclear if these players were at the bottom of the roster, but comparing them to the others at their position, it seems likely.
It goes back to how Dallas maneuvered their roster so they could release the veteran players listed above and tell them they will be signed once the cuts are finalized. If the team released Houston, Harper, and Ridgeway, all three could have been claimed by other teams around the league.
While other teams across the NFL claimed none of the players Dallas released, it could have been different if either of these three were out on the street. With the Cowboys only keeping Dak Prescott as the only active quarterback on the roster, it gave them more wiggle room to do something like this.
The surprise is that outside of Houston showing some chemistry in camp with Prescott, he never stood out enough in game action to make the final 53. Sure, the team does need depth at receiver with James Washington going on injured reserve and the uncertainty of Michael Gallup for Week 1. The assumption was they could find a "Houston-type" player with more experience after roster cuts.
Ridgeway did not show up much either and seemed to be battling Carlos Watkins for the final spot at defensive tackle. That is if the plan was always to keep six on the team. Watkins looked more dominant along the line, but the front office kept their draft pick like they always seem to do. Watkins did re-sign to the practice squad, but the team did risk losing someone who started 14 games for them last season.
It would be interesting to see where Dallas stacks up against other teams in the league when it comes to keeping their own. It asks if it is a successful formula when creating a roster that equals a Super Bowl. That might be an interesting topic for another day.