August 27 - Clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 75 players on Active List prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.
August 31 - Roster cut-down to maximum of 53 players on Active/Inactive List prior to 9:00 p.m., New York time. Clubs may dress minimum of 43 and maximum of 46 players for each regular season and postseason game.
September 1 - Claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction will expire at 12:00 noon, New York time.
Beginning at 12:00 noon, New York time, clubs may establish a Practice Squad of eight players by signing free agents who do not have an accrued season of free agency credit or who were on the 46-player Active List for less than nine regular season games during each of any Accrued Seasons. A player cannot participate on the Practice Squad for more than three seasons.
Keeping in mind that the Cowboys have 2 more preseason games that are jammed close together tomorrow (Aug 25) and then next Wednesday (Aug 29), we quickly see that the pro personnel department is going to be plenty busy with the jobs of making cuts, predicting and planning for cuts from around the league, and building a practice squad all in the next 8 days time.
There will be hundreds of transactions, and a good personnel department will be able to instantly hear a name that they missed out on in a previous draft that they can take a chance on and pull the trigger - at the expense of someone that fought hard to make this team in front of their eyes for the last 5 weeks.
It is not an easy job or one that allows for a whole lot of time with the family this time of year. Your scouts are pouring over preseason film of games from around the league and comparing notes. It is not uncommon to find 2-3 pieces from other team's cuts that you like better than the 52nd and 53rd man in your own camp.
And that is what makes these 53 man projections a bit silly (although I happily partake). A final 53 man roster is an absurd statement. There should never be a "final 53" man roster. In fact, as we have seen, the 53-man roster is completed, with players celebrating and calling home to report that they made it; Only to be informed 12 hours later that they have been released for a player the team just claimed from Jacksonville or Detroit. Unless a team is holding a Lombardi trophy, no roster is ever "final". And players can be happy to survive a cut, but the fact is that many players must go to work every day wondering if they will still be employed on Sunday (when another paycheck is earned).
But, with all of that being said, I plan on offering a look at what I think the 53 man will be today and then in 1 week to see how well our eyeballs are seeing what the personnel department is seeing from camp and the preseason games. Clearly, the fact that I left California 2 weeks ago today will not help my projections from the work done in San Diego in the practices with the Chargers, but we will do the best we can.
So, let's get started:
First, I will reprint the chart I use to show how this Cowboys' personnel department has arrived at 53 in the past 5 years by position:
2007: 26 Offense/24 Defense/3 Specialist
2008: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2009: 25 Offense/24 Defense/4 Specialist
2010: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2011: 26 Offense/23 Defense/4 Specialist
Sources: Archer 2008 , Archer 2007 , MacMahon 2009, Archer 2010, and Watkins 2011.
Now, with that in mind, let's dive in:
Quarterbacks (2): Tony Romo, Kyle Orton - Rudy Carpenter is practice-squad eligible, and we should keep that top of mind. I don't see any reason to pay Orton what the Cowboys did and still to carry 3 QBs unless the 3rd is a prospect that really excites me. I do like Stephen McGee, but at this point of his career, with a contract needed soon if you like him, it sure looks like the end of the road is very near.
Running Backs (4): DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner, Lawrence Vickers - I keep looking for that 5th from this group, but so far I am not convinced. Shaun Chapas is in a ton of special teams in San Diego and Jamize Olawale is playing more and more, but I still am not sure that either are in. We need to take careful note of the special teams on Saturday Night again.
Wide Receivers (6): Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, Danny Coale, Kevin Ogletree - I realize after Cole Beasely put together a monster 4th Quarter in San Diego that he should be on this list, but I still am nost sure I am sold. Andre Holmes is playing on most of the special teams so I think he has the team made without even catching a pass. Danny Coale vs Cole Beasley is going to be the test for the final spot as I am now feeling like they will carry 6. So, does Beasley catch and pass Coale? Well, for 2,000 words on the topic, please make sure you read what I spent time on early this week right here. In the end, barring another injury setback to Coale, I will likely risk getting Beasley to the practice squad, as I think he is the most likely to not be claimed due to his prohibitive size and special teams. Perhaps a few months or a season on the practice squad can develop Beasley into a more sure thing on returns. However, all of this can still change in the next 8 days.
Tight Ends (3): Jason Witten, John Phillips, James Hanna - I really liked seeing James Hanna on all of the special teams in San Diego. This is his way for now. He must be a good special teams soldier in year 1 and do what Phillips has done since 2009 and will continue to do - be a spine member of all 4 special teams. That was good news.
Offensive Line (10): Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Phil Costa, Ronald Leary, Jermey Parnell, David Arkin, Daniel Loper, Kevin Kowalski - I no longer can buy the idea of Pat McQuistan making this squad. A big body is not enough to make this team. I recognize they need a 4th tackle, but I would rather take my chances finding one on the waiver wire. I am too heavy at guard in this cutdown, so I think Dockery is most likely to go with his veteran contract. Remember, Ronald Leary will likely make the squad given his hefty guaranteed money for an undrafted rookie. Kowalski is in the mix again and Loper looks ready now to make this squad. I really liked his work against the Chargers.
Defensive Line (7): Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Kenyon Coleman, Sean Lissemore, Tyrone Crawford, Josh Brent, Marcus Spears - I am quite close to moving Robert Callaway to my 53, maybe at the expense of Marcus Spears. Let's watch another preseason game. But, I think I like Callaway and his huge body to make the team. I am having a hard time justifying Coleman and Spears. And, personally, I like Coleman better against the run. Salary-wise, they are close, with Coleman at $1.9m and Spears is at $2m, but the Spears cap hit will be more since they inexplicably gave him a 5-year deal last summer. I have no idea what possessed them on that one.
Line Backers (9): DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Dan Conner, Victor Butler, Kyle Wilbur, Alex Albright, Adrian Hamilton - I will need to protect Wilbur from being claimed if I tried to sneak him through cuts. He wouldn't make it, so he makes the team despite being hurt. Hamilton's pass rush skills are impressive, so he makes the cut over Orie Lemon. However, if you read my piece on special teams from this week - which I hope you do - this is a case where Lemon could be one of those designated special teams spine members.
Defensive Backs (9): Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Mike Jenkins, Barry Church, Gerald Sensabaugh, Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, Mario Butler- Mario Butler made as strong a move forward as anyone did last Saturday night. He showed impressive closing speed and the willingness to risk his body to make strong tackle moves at the line of scrimmage. In open space, he still needs work, but Butler is showing that he deserves a job on this roster for his versatility at corner, safety, and most importantly can play in all special teams situations. I am now sold.
Specialists (3): Dan Bailey, LP Ladouceur, Chris Jones - I have been told not to sleep on Charley Hughlett to catch LP Ladouceur in the deep snapper race. If all things are equal, LP makes $790k and Hughlett is at $390k, and on a deep snapper, that is a significant difference.
Last 5 to make the cut for me: Coale, Loper, Kowalski, M. Butler, Spears
Players 54-60: Beasley, Callaway, Dockery, Wilson, Olawale, Lemon
Again, it is now poor logic to assume that someone makes the team "by default". If McQuistan is your 4th best tackle and you need to keep 4, you either like him or you don't. The San Diego game confirmed that he is just a guy. I tell my personnel department to find the best tackle that is about to be released and you claim him on September 1.
Two more preseason games to go, but the clock is moving fast now.