The preseason games start this week, and I know one of the fun traditions at training camp is for all of us who fancy ourselves as GM-wannabes to evaluate on our own as we watch these practices and talk to scouts and front office people about what they think. As I go through a few weeks at camp, I sometimes like to make notes and see how the roster falls for me.
Then, we are constantly updating that until we get to the cutdown days to see how close our roster matches up to the roster that the Cowboys eventually plan on going with. Now, this is a useful way to pass the time, but it does miss one very important element - which is, of course, that the Cowboys know what is going on everywhere else; their scouts will go to most all the preseason games in the NFL this August and evaluate players on all 31 other teams to decide how the discards of other franchises will rank against who the Cowboys presently have in camp. History shows us that of the 53 jobs the Cowboys will decide upon by September 5th, probably 2 or 3 of them will be given to players who are not even on this camp roster right now on August 11th. Last year alone, Jack Crawford (Oakland), Lavar Edwards (Tennessee), CJ Spillman (San Francisco), and Korey Toomer (Seattle) were all added from other team's rosters between August 30th and cutdown day.
So, given the fact that all 4 made the final roster and none were here for even preseason game action, the following exercise is even more impossible than first imagined. But, it is still enjoyable to look at the preseason from a perspective of 53 jobs. There are 90 players here so to get to 53 means - quite simply - that (at least) 37 players will not make the squad. 10 of those players might qualify for the practice squad and eventually work their way into the mix, but just 53 will be in the team picture which is always taken before Week 1. And even then, they could be replaced at any time if they are on the very bottom of the roster. There is literally no time a young player can fully relax about job security until he earns that contract with a nice guarantee.
On the other hand, there are between 40-45 jobs that were already secured before the plane left DFW for California. Barring a complete catastrophe, there is a massive group of players because of investment would be on the 2015 Cowboys no matter what. They have been essentially guaranteed jobs by the team over the spring and while camp is important to them to prepare for the season ahead, it never really crosses their mind that they have to make the team. I don't mean to use hyperbole when describing their place in the organization, but let's just say that they enter camp with over a 90% chance of having one of those 53 jobs.
So, I have divided the 90 players into 3 categories below. I may have these categories wrong (and I am sure some of you will be happy to assist me with any mistakes), but as I sit here this morning with the laptop, I have used the chart to group players into either the column for "Already Made Team", "On The Bubble", or "Longshots". The players on the bubble who are underlined are those who I think are in the 53 presently, but that can change in a minute.
I want to adjust this chart after each preseason game, but this is where I am presently. Let's look at the chart and then I will attempt to elaborate on any topics that might require some explanation.
|Position||Already Made Team||On The Bubble||Longshots|
|QB||(2) Romo, Weeden||(1) Vaughn||(1) Showers|
|RB||(3) Randle, Dunbar, Clutts||(1) McFadden||(3) Seastrunk, Johnson, Agnew|
|TE||(2) Witten, Escobar||(2) Hanna, Swaim||(1) Barden|
|WR||(4) Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Street||(1) Whitehead||(6) Dunn, Jenkins, Harwell, Farmer, Greenberry, Goodley|
|T||(3) Smith, Free, Green,||(2) Weems, Gibson||(2) Wetzel, Dill|
|G-C||(5) Leary, Frederick, Martin, Collins, Bernadeau||(3) , McDermott, Clay, Patrick|
|DT||(3) T Crawford, Hayden, T McClain||(2) Bishop, Coleman||(1) Whaley|
|DE||(4) Lawrence, Gregory, Hardy, Mincey||(5) Boatright, J Crawford, Gardner, Russell, Edwards||(1) Obada,|
|LB||(7) Lee, Wilber, Brinkley, McClain, Hitchens, Wilson, Gachkar||(2) Nzeocha, K Smith||(3) Brown, Baggs, Glaud|
|CB||(4) Carr, Scandrick, Claiborne, Jones||(2) White, Patmon||(3) Steeples, Ross, Wilson|
|S||(4) Church, Wilcox, McCray, Heath||(2) Vinopal, Scott|
|ST||(3) Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur||(2) Hornsey, Kreiter|
So I have 44 jobs locked down, with 18 on the bubble for the last 9 jobs. The long-shots are all candidates for the practice squad, but unlikely to make a real run at the 53 for now, but I have been wrong in the past enough (Cole Beasley) to know that maybe someone like Gus Johnson can move all the way to the roster with a big month here.
QB - I don't see any reason to keep a 3rd QB from what I have seen so far. Dustin Vaughn and even Jameill Showers will have most of the time in the preseason to show they deserve a spot, but I am anticipating my 3rd being a practice squad guy. I have too many other spots to worry about keeping a 3rd QB spot unless that guy is knocking my socks off. Those two are not to this point.
RB - I suppose Darren McFadden should be in the first column, but I wasn't much of a believer before camp and we still have yet to see him in any capacity. As for the RBs who are long shots, there is almost no spot on the roster where there will be a better chance to make a preseason impression. Of course, Ryan Williams set a few games on fire last preseason and still did not make the team.
TE - James Hanna has the inside track, but when the Cowboys traded a 6th round pick from next year's draft to get Geoff Swaim in the 7th round, it had to register as a run at Hanna's job in the final year of Hanna's rookie deal. Swaim has a 4-year rookie deal so as far as looking for team control, he is nearly on equal footing. But, Hanna (only Jeff Heath and Kyle Wilber are on the roster and played more last year on special teams) is a major special teams contributor, so that is how Swaim can compete with him.
WR - Here is a spot where 4 of the 5 are already here. In fact, the 5th spot is Dwayne Harris' old spot which tells you it might be completely made by special teams. That puts Lucky Whitehead ahead of the pack, but when you watch preseason games, it is vital you watch punts and kickoffs to see if any of those WR long shots make a lot of tackles. That is their meal ticket.
T - 3 of the 4 spots are in cement. But, your 4th tackle (which is your 3rd until Chaz Green gets healthy) might play early if there is an injury. That is why the veteran Darrion Weems likely has the inside track over 7th rounder Laurence Gibson for the last spot to replace Jermey Parnell.
G-C - I think all 5 jobs are claimed. I don't see any way that this changes to be honest. And, if they want to get creative, La'el Collins might be their 4th tackle, too, but it is probably too early for that.
DT - it is a bit complicated because there are several players who can play DT and DE, but we will define DT as 3 of the 4 jobs are already given to Crawford, McClain, and Hayden (even though fans try to cut Hayden every camp - he plays nearly 700 snaps and hardly ever is to blame for much). The last job is a contest between Ken Bishop and Davon Coleman and while that job is close, I like Bishop more right now.
DE - The Cowboys generally go heavy here. They might keep 6 or maybe even 7 DEs in the 53, especially if they can get some Special Teams added value. 3 of the 5 on the bubble can make the team, and Ryan Russell as a 5th rounder and Ben Gardner from the 2014 draft both look like they have a good chance. I also love Jack Crawford as depth, but this spot is up in the air.
LB - I think all 7 spots are already determined, so even those on the bubble are going to have to be great at special teams. Andrew Gachkar is on the roster - with a nice contract - to take all of Cam Lawrence's 300 special team snaps from last year.
CB - They may keep 6 corners, so Corey White and Tyler Patmon are likely in the club, but the numbers indicate they cannot relax. I think White's safety ability is his meal ticket.
S - The two starters are locks, but beyond that, Danny McCray and Jeff Heath are here for special teams and insurance. I think they are on the roster for sure, but the fact that Byron Jones and Corey White are playing so much safety might make us consider some roster creativity.
ST - There is absolutely nothing to see here. Those 3 spots are locked up.
For reference, here is a chart I have used since 2007. It is the final 53 man roster for the Cowboys based on the numbers they have used at each spot. Of course, you should be aware of the scheme affecting this as when they went from 3-4 to a 4-3, the DL/LB numbers were impacted. Otherwise, this might be useful if you choose to try to make your own roster.
It should also be noted that Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy will be suspended to start the season and they will not count against the 53 to start - so technically they have 55 jobs to work with at first.
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
2012: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2013: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
2014: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
So there you have it on the morning of August 11th. But, as you know, this will change many times before cutdown days. On September 1st, the team must drop to 75. September 5th is the final cutdown to 53. Know that every day along the way the team is evaluating every rep and trying to examine and argue about every possibility on how to keep the right 53, stash the right 10 on the practice squad, and cherry pick someone else's discards.
Roster building is the very essence of the NFL game and if you watch preseason games from this perspective, it might enhance your experience through the tedious preseason. Week 1 will be here before you know it, but between now and then, put yourself in the position of the front office and keep a close eye on those special teams scenarios to see who makes the team that way.