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Point/Counterpoint: Cowboys will go heavy at some positions, but it always comes with a cost

The mix of the Cowboys roster will be an interesting puzzle that comes with benefits and costs.

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys
Position flex is important for the Cowboys, which could mean good things for Markquese Bell.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

We are about to get hit by an avalanche of Dallas Cowboys roster projections. They finish the preseason against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, and that gives writers and fans alike two days to make their final guesses on who makes the 53-man roster before we find out who really made it. However, it wise to remember that the initial roster will evolve a bit as there could be multiple changes before the first real game at the New York Giants.

This is an interesting year for Dallas. They are very deep on defense, while they may go short on offense just because they don’t have the same depth there. This relationship is one thing that is hard to predict. And there are some places where the way the team uses its players makes for real uncertainty, as some of those players can function as more than one position.

Our David Howman and Tom Ryle discuss just what that is about.

Tom: Based on my opinion and what we are seeing in social media, there appear to be 23 or so locks on defense, with at least a half dozen other players who merit some consideration. That’s great, but what really muddies things is how position designations just don’t fit Dan Quinn’s defense. He will deploy players in multiple roles, often having them switch from one to another on consecutive plays. Here are the ones I think could apply, based on what Quinn has done in the past:

1T, 3T, NT, DE, LEO, OLB pass rusher, MIKE, WILL, SS, FS, S/LB hybrid, outside corner, nickel corner, dime corner.

Many of the players can fill more than one job, giving the team that position flex they so love. Further, sometimes the design of the defense can give us very interesting and atypical alignments, like lining up four nominal DEs in a NASCAR package.

One example of this is the recent talk that Markquese Bell is going to make this team as the backup for Jayron Kearse, who has been very successful in that hybrid S/LB role. Bell’s path to the roster was made much easier by the very unfortunate injury to DeMarvion Overshown, who looked to be getting ready for a similar role. In a domino effect, this might also mean an opportunity for Juanyeh Thomas, as Bell, like Kearse, makes it unnecessary to carry a lot of linebackers. And safety is a great source for ST players, which is important with the likely reduced number of linebackers on this year’s team.

David: I’m always intrigued by the way teams break down their roster numbers between offense and defense. Since special teams typically has just three players (kicker, punter, long snapper) it makes sense to keep 25 offensive players and 25 defensive players. That was generally the trend we saw under Jason Garrett, and in fact Mike McCarthy took the same approach his first year in Dallas.

That hasn’t been the case the last two years, though. Since Dan Quinn showed up, the Cowboys have consistently gone light on offense; they kept 22 in 2021 and 23 last year. I think a lot of that has to do with Quinn’s positionless defense and an urge to give him as many Swiss army knives as possible. As you mentioned, injuries this year will force Quinn to double down on that positional flex, though I’m not sure he needed a reason to double down to begin with.

I’m curious, though, if the Cowboys opt not to go as light on offense now with McCarthy calling plays. They’re not as deep on offense as they are on defense, but maybe that keeps McCarthy up at night. He saw last year what happens when you aren’t deep enough at receiver; his tight end group is wildly inexperienced despite some promising play in training camp; and his starting running back broke his leg the last time he played. McCarthy has talked already about several difficult roster decisions awaiting them, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they balance things between offense and defense.

Tom: I do see the arguments for going heavier on offense this year. In particular, it looks like the team should keep six wide receivers, because that room is deeper than I can remember. You’ve got the three starters, Jalen Tolbert looks to have an iron grip on WR4, KaVaontae Turpin is the default WR5 as the return specialist as well as looking pretty good receiving the ball, and I think they want to have one more. You almost always have to cover for someone during the season. The current contenders seem to be Simi Fehoko, Jalen Brooks, and Dontario Drummond. I bet they keep Brooks around because he is a draft pick, and even seventh-rounders get a little extra consideration from this organization.

They also should go heavy on the offensive line, because they aren’t really sure about any of the depth and may wind up needing bodies to try and figure something out if they have to use backups. However, the waiver claims are going to be interesting, because of how all the cut players hit the market in one big wave this year, and veterans past their first contract are not subject to being claimed anyway. I am pretty convinced they will bring in one or two linemen. And we’ve heard Jason Peters might want to sign again. I would not feel bad about that at all. But if they do load up here, it is going to cost a good player somewhere else his job.

Where I do think they will go short is with the tight ends and running backs. I believe there will be seven players on the roster between the two groups, but I’m not sure which has four. McCarthy may like the idea of someone filling an H-back role, which is a hybrid of the two positions. It’s a player that can run the ball, function as an inline blocker, and provide value as a receiver. I’d guess Malik Davis is the leader for that job, but Sean McKeon has built some credibility with staff. And Hunter Luepke basically did in college. There is also a very real chance they just carry three of each.

Just as kind of a footnote, depending on how they treat QB3 with the new rules, that could be a reason they have to cut someone much better than Will Grier at their job.

This one’s going to be interesting. Quality players like Dante Fowler may be in peril. Others like Quinton Bohanna are easier to figure out. I also don’t think C.J. Goodwin will be back as the special teams ace, losing that job to one of the young linebackers or defensive backs.

David: It’s funny you mention H-backs, because Hunter Luepke is a perfect fit for that type of role. Like you said, it’s pretty much exactly what he did in college, though we have yet to see him work as a lead blocker or tight end in the preseason. Perhaps the Cowboys are doing this on purpose to sneak him onto the practice squad and then call him up for games where they’ll need an H-back. Or maybe they just truly don’t think he’s ready for such a role.

I agree that it comes down to the running back and tight end positions, at least on offense. Someone deserving of a roster spot is going to be left out there, and we’ll all be holding our breath to see if they clear waivers. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Dallas rolls with three backs and two tight ends. But I’m not a betting man, and this isn’t betting advice, so for the time being I’m just going to sit back and watch it all unfold.

One thing is for sure, though: that cut down day is going to come with plenty of heartbreak.

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