Now that the draft is over, the focus will be on trying to determine who will make the final 53 man roster for the opening week of the season. Below is a very early roster projection.
Players that are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the upcoming season are noted, as are players that could possibly retire or be released after the upcoming season. Note that this isn’t a prediction for the 2018 season. Most of those marked as potential cuts will likely return for 2018, but keep in mind that the team is expected to have a high number of picks in next year’s draft. This notation is made because the team is likely considering that possibility in their long-range roster planning. All salary and free agency information is from www.OverTheCap.com.
Quarterback (Roster 2, Practice Squad 2)
Kellen Moore (Pending FA)
Practice Squad – Jamiel Showers and Cooper Rush (PS)
Moore is the front-runner for the backup spot. Jameil Showers and Cooper Rush make the practice squad with Showers continuing to work at safety in addition to quarterback during practices. Rush looks like a guy that can be groomed into the primary backup for 2018. He has somewhat limited arm strength and mobility but is very intelligent. Does that sound like a former Cowboys backup quarterback? Hint – the former quarterback has red hair just like Rush and is now the head coach.
Running Back (Roster 3, Practice Squad 1)
Darren McFadden (Pending FA)
Alfred Morris (Pending FA)
Jahad Thomas (PS)
Elliot and McFadden are locked in. Morris very well could be vulnerable, but there isn’t much competition at the moment. Morris has a salary of $1.2 million and can earn an additional $500,000 in game day roster bonuses. If Morris is inactive on game days, his salary cap charge will be less than a million more than a rookie replacement. The initial projection is that Garrett values Morris’ professionalism and reliability and makes the roster, but he could be vulnerable to being replaced by a rookie with a good camp or a veteran cut near the roster deadline. Jahad Thomas sits on the practice squad to audition for a roster spot in 2018. In this scenario, the team would go without a scat back as a receiving option, but Lance Dunbar wasn’t used much when he held that role recently.
Fullback (Roster 1, Practice Squad 0)
Keith Smith (Pending FA)
Smith returns as the fullback. Rod Smith will compete for a roster spot with special teams play but falls short.
Wide Receiver (Roster 6, Practice Squad 1)
Brice Butler (Pending FA)
Andy Jones (PS)
The top four are locked in, but the remainder is difficult. Butler could be vulnerable as a 5th receiver because he doesn’t play special teams. Noah Brown, with his size and aggressive nature, should be able to be an asset on special teams and as a blocker, so he makes the roster. The choice between Butler and Andy Jones is close to a toss-up. I went with Butler for his experience and ability to be a backup to Bryant. The team should be able sneak Jones on the practice squad for another season unless he shows well in the preseason. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Butler not make the cut. Jones could match his receiving ability while also contributing on special teams. The team goes heavier here than last year.
Quincy McDuffie and Lucky Whitehead don’t make the cut after the team drafted Ryan Switzer to be the punt returner and with Jourdan Lewis’ also having return capabilities.
Tight End (Roster 3, Practice Squad 1)
Jason Witten (Possible Pending Retirement)
Blake Jarwin (PS)
There continues to be speculation that James Hanna won’t return 100% healthy, and he doesn’t make the cut in this projection. If he is healthy, he would make the roster.
Offensive Tackle (Roster 4, Practice Squad 1)
Emmitt Cleary (Pending FA)
Byron Bell (Pending FA)
Dan Skipper (PS)
Guard/Center (Roster 4)
Zack Martin (Pending FA)
Jonathan Cooper (Pending FA)
Joe Looney doesn’t make the cut simply because he is just a marginal player. Expect Zack Martin to be signed to a long term contract prior to the beginning of the season. The team could keep a guy on the practice squad to bring up if one of these four are injured, or they could use a backup OT as an emergency guard.
Defensive Line (Roster 10, Practice Squad 2)
Cedric Thornton (Potential 2018 Salary Cap Cut)
Demarcus Lawrence (Pending FA)
David Irving (Pending FA)
Tyrone Crawford (Potential 2018 Salary Cap Cut)
Stephen Paea (Pending FA)
Benson Mayowa (Potential 2018 Salary Cap Cut)
Joey Ivie (PS)
Jordan Carroll (PS)
With two pending free agents and three other veterans that could (but most likely won’t) be salary cap casualties before 2018, the Cowboys go deep at this position and also put their two rookie DTs on the practice squad.
Linebacker (Roster 6, Practice 0)
Anthony Hitchens (Pending FA)
Kyle Wilber (Pending FA)
James Morris is a strong considering due to his value on special teams, but is the final cut. He could be kept on speed dial during the season. Looking forward to 2018, Hitchens may depart because he is a marginal player and hasn’t contributed much on special teams, and Wilber will only return if he signs a team friendly contract and continues his strong special teams play this season.
Cornerback (Roster 6, Practice Squad 2)
Orlando Scandrick (Potential 2018 Salary Cap Cut)
Nolan Carroll (Potential For Team To Not Exercise Option for 2018)
Jeremiah McKinnon (PS)
We don’t know the truth behind whether Scandrick was actually “shopped” during the draft. I can see two possibilities. First, Dallas could have mentioned Scandrick to a team or teams with the thought that they could deal Scandrick if they could draft Fabian Moreau. I would have made that deal if possible, and it is not surprising that no one offered a third round pick for him. Second, and this is more unlikely and sort of a conspiracy theory, a team that likes Scandrick or has ill will for Dallas may have floated the rumor in order to get the feisty Scandrick upset with the team.
Safety (Roster 5, Practice Squad 0)
This is the easiest position other than the specialists to forecast at this time, which probably means it won’t be accurate.
Specialists (Roster 3, Practice Squad 0)
It it ain’t* broke, don’t fix it.
*Apologies to my second grade teacher who constantly said “ain’t” isn’t a word.
The teams’ depth appears to solid until the very end of the top 53. There aren’t any projected cuts that feel like they are definitely NFL caliber players. That may change if a few unexpected undrafted free agents shine during training camp. Looking forward to next off-season, the competition should really get hot if the team keeps all ten of its projected draft picks (6 plus a nearly certain 4 compensatory). Guys that barely made the cut include Alfred Morris, Brice Butler, and Damontrae Moore. Those who just missed the cut are James Morris and Jahad Thomas. James Hanna would be added if he is healthy.
Speaking of undrafted rookie free agents, none are projected to make the roster. That would be the second straight season after several years of at least one UDFA making the opening day roster.
Let us know in the comments what I got right and what I got wrong.