Trying to predict an NFL roster cuts requires a major ingredient for accuracy sake that is never readily available. That is being able to read the mind of the guys in that war room who are arguing for or against a certain player making the team. I really enjoy this exercise of trying to find the final 53, but it is a highly subjective contest, like predicting the winner of a art or cooking contest. Unless you fully understand the tastes and opinions of the judges or decision makers, you are not on the right path. It is not necessarily the best 53 player. It is the best 53 according to Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, Tom Ciskowski and any other voices at Valley Ranch who have a little decision-making leverage (Rob Ryan).
So, as I watched the practices, scrimmage, and pre-season games, that becomes the challenge. The easy part is identifying how many players they are likely to take at a given position, pick what you perceive to be the best players at that position, and cutting everyone else. But, we know it is not that easy. We have to factor in other ideas. Age, salary, potential, rare traits, and things like eligibility to play on the practice squad. You must get down to 53, but the Injured Reserve and Physically Unable To Peform lists also help you to massage that number without exposing a given player to the rest of the league (like the elected to do with Bill Nagy a few weeks back).
Today, I want to take one final run at the final roster and briefly discuss each player that is on the fence for the roster. As is the case every year, there are some easy cuts and some very difficult ones. But, most important thing to remember is that I can certainly not predict what is going on inside Jerry Jones' head. If I could, I would have told him not to do the Roy Williams trade or to agree to the Papa John's rap commercial.
It is also worth noting that every year, but this year in particular, the Cowboys are likely looking at cuts from around the league to crack the Cowboys final roster. That means, the final roster (By 8pm Friday night) will not be the final roster. A guy could make the 53, only to be replaced by Sunday or Monday. It happens every year. I anticipate the Cowboys will sign someone else's cut offensive tackle over the weekend, but there is no way to predict that.
One final time, let me show you my chart from their last 5 roster cuts to show how the Cowboys think philosophically in the department of roster construction:
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 2007 , Archer 2008 , MacMahon 2009, Archer 2010, and Watkins 2011.
Yesterday, I identified 32 players as guys who had already made the team. As opposed to discussing obvious choices, let's just all agree that there is virtually no chance the following players are not on the final Cowboys roster.
They are: D Bryant, M Austin, T Smith, N Livings, P Costa, M Bernadeau, D Free, J Witten, T Romo, L Vickers, D Murray, J Phillips, J Hanna, K Orton, and F Jones on offense. J Ratliff, J Hatcher, A Spencer, S Lee, D Ware, B Carr, B Church, G Sensabaugh, M Claiborne, T Crawford, V Butler, B Carter, O Scandrick, and S Lissemore. And 3 specialists. C Jones, D Bailey and LP Ladouceur. Those 32 make the team without question, in my estimation.
That leaves 21 jobs on the line from 43 players.
Here are those jobs:
#33 - Kevin Ogletree: He has done enough to make the squad as a versatile WR who has built up some trust. It is still a big year from him and he could fall out of favor in just a few weeks, but for now, I don't see a scenario under which he is not on the roster.
#34 - Dwayne Harris: Similarly, Harris offers versatility, special teams contributions, and enough plays made from the slot and the outside to suggest that he is comfortably on the roster.
#35 - Jeremy Parnell: I am almost to the point on Parnell that I think he is ready to spot start a few games if injuries happen. I think he has proven to be a shrewd signing and a player they extended on a nice number through 2014 as a swing tackle who will dress and be active every game.
#36 - Mike Jenkins: There is no reason not to keep Jenkins around unless you get a great offer. Corners get injured. To have a reserve ready who has this many starts under his belt is a rare luxury. Alan Ball and Bryan McCann played significant snaps last season and the Cowboys are actually prepared to survive injuries this year at corner. Also, dime defense is a bigger and bigger unit in the NFL these days.
#37 - Dan Conner: He has not blown anyone away with his camp, but I assume his bonus and his resume assures him a spot. He also looks like a guy who will spend some time on the kickoff and punt teams as time goes on. If Bruce Carter doesn't take Conner's spot away soon, that will tell us more about Carter. Conner should be fine, but we have seen that teams will attack him through the air and try to isolate him. He looks solid, but I have my questions about how much better things will be with him over James and Brooking.
#38 - Danny McCray: He is the modern day Sam Hurd (on the field) in that he will be a special teams captain and hold that unit together. He also has a knack for being around the ball when he is put on the field in the big nickel (5 DBs but 3 safeties) and can pull off some LB when he needs to. Versatility and trust-worthy are two attributes that make this team. McCray is safe with ease.
#39 - Josh Brent: Can't teach size. The Cowboys want more impact from Brent, but big guys require patience. He has a chance to be overtaken by Lissemore on the nose and even Callaway, but for now, they like his upside and youth.
#40 - Mario Butler: The surprise of camp for me. I had little regard for his courage, physical traits, and nose for the ball a month ago. Now, I am comfortable with him as a 4th corner if Jenkins leaves. Very nice find.
#41 - Alex Albright: Again, versatility and trust-worthy. A guy who plays on all special teams and a guy who can play inside and outside LB. Another nice job by the personnel department to find Alex.
#42 - Mana Silva: This guy has emerged out of nowhere. Silva was not on my radar at all until Matt Johnson's train never left the depot. But, he is just the type of guy who can play on all special teams and appears to have some upside as a deep safety. I like what I have seen and continue to wish to see more. It is possible the Cowboys have stumbled upon something nice here.
#43 - Ronald Leary: Leary makes the team as a developmental interior offensive line guy, but I must confess that he has been a pretty big disappointment so far. This idea that he was a ready-made NFL guard just isn't true. He is constantly being beat at the line and even turned around in some scenarios. His bonus was large and we must be patient with big guys, but I don't see much in 2012 to plan on. He is the first of the "will make the 53 but don't plan on seeing him active much" group.
#44 - Orie Lemon: I think he makes the team as a special teams pillar. Dependable and can play inside.
#45 - Cole Beasley: I concede that I didn't see this as a possibility in July, but now as I predict what the Cowboys are thinking, I just don't see Jerry and Stephen allowing his weaknesses to deter them. Not sure where this leads, but he will get his chance to make an impact in Week 1. Quite a story of defying odds here.
#46 - Kenyon Coleman: As I have stated over and over, I think either Coleman or Spears is done here. I also concede that Spears is more likely to stay if contracts or age are the difference, but I think Coleman is better at the job of "early down run stuffing". So, I don't have a ton of confidence in this pick, but I am going to go with football over dollars. And if plays over cap hits wins, it is Coleman. But, Spears may survive on being younger and having more guaranteed money.
#47 - Daniel Loper: This one could also be iffy, but I think Loper is a better football player than Derrick Dockery. If I dress 7 or 8 on game day, I think Loper is more likely to fill in for an injured guard and do fine. They both are veterans, so both would make $825,000 if they made the team. Which one do you like more to dress every game? For me, it is Loper. But, I concede that Jerry talks about Dockery more.
#48 - Adrian Hamilton: Controversial, but if a LBs best attribute is pass rushing, I think you owe it to yourself to teach him special teams. He may be inactive at first, but I have no confidence he could sneak through to the practice squad. You must protect him if you think he has anything, and I belive he has shown enough to invest in. However, when things get tight, I do admit that his spot will be looked at very carefully.
#49 - David Arkin: Here is a player that I would not keep due to obvious concerns with strength. However, they invested a 4th in him and have built at least some confidence that he could play center in a pinch. I just don't see him ever being much at guard. That being said, their candidates at center if Costa gets hurt again is a very, very short list. On that alone, I think Arkin is safe for now.
#50 - Phillip Tanner: He is useful as a 3rd RB and as a special teams guy. I think he made it, despite missing plenty of preseason action.
#51 - Kyle Wilbur: Despite his injury, I think you owe it to yourself to protect him and add another quality OLB prospect to your pile. He makes my team.
#52 - Danny Coale: Again, I am going to trust my scouts who loved him on draft day. He has been hurt, but he also has credibility based on 4 years at Virginia Tech and a resume of being a valuable piece. It has been a tough start, but I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. He makes it over Andre Holmes for now, by an eyelash.
#53 - Shaun Chapas: This is the guy in biggest jeopardy on the waiver wire. If the Cowboys find something they like more that comes along, then Chapas will be first voted off the island, I think. Otherwise, he is another trustworthy special teams piece on game-day.
That is the 53 man roster.
To Injured Reserve/PUP - Matt Johnson: I believe Johnson will be retained and basically red-shirted for 2012. He has too much to offer to expose him to the league yet.
And now, those who missed the cut:
#54 - Andre Holmes: This is not an easy cut, but I am already keeping 6 WRs and Holmes is the one who Beasley beat out. This violates every rule of scouting due to Holmes speed, height, and flashes of sensational play, but consistency and dependability have bitten him. Practice Squad?
#55 - Jamize Olawale: Could possibly take Chapas' job, but I don't think he did enough on special teams to convince the Cowboys to take a chance. Definitely a practice squad candidate.
#56 - Rob Callaway: I wanted to keep Big Rob. I like what he has, but I think it comes down to Callaway or Brent. I think with Lissemore, they won't keep both. And, Brent was the guy who had to be unseated.
#57 - Lance Dunbar: Useful piece, just can't keep another undersized player on my 53. Those guys who cannot play special teams but also have no role on your offense cannot sit unused on your active roster. Practice Squad.
#58 - Marcus Spears: Good locker-room guy and respected team-mate. But, there is no justification of the $2 million salary that I can detect.
#59 - Clifton Geathers: I see the amazing frame. I don't see plays that go with it. They have shown patience here and I think cutting bait is the proper move.
#60 - Ben Bass: Useful prospect who might make it to the practice squad for now.
#61 - Tim Benford: He has something, but there is no place for him. Practice Squad candidate.
The rest are far easier cuts for me: S Hakim, J Adams, H Gunn, P McQuistan, D Dockery, A Szczerba, S McGee, R Carpenter, B Atkins, L Smith, A Owusu-Ansah, E Whitley, T Williams. Of these, I think Carpenter and Williams might hang around for the practice squad, too.
Noteworthy of the above group is that Owusu Ansah and McQuistan have both been brought back for another look after being released and their play in preseason just confirmed what the Cowboys saw when they cut them loose last time.
So, that is what I came up with. Odds are very good that I will not predict the Cowboys thinking accurately, but it is fun to try.
By position, I kept 2 QB, 5 RB, 3 TE, 6 WR, 9 OL, 6 DL, 10 LB, 9 DB, and 3 specialists. Admittedly, 10 LBs seems awful thick, so perhaps a trade could happen from that group because they all have value. Also, 6 DL is a bit light, so a Callaway for a LB swap (Lemon or Hamilton) is not out of the question, either. And Chapas might only be around until they take the best available tackle off waivers.
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