Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Meet the 2017 Dallas Cowboys


AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, October 19, 2014 (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Tom Fox/Staff Photographer
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, October 19, 2014 (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Let's understand that there is never a completed roster in the NFL.  If you accept the fact that the last few members of the roster must live with the idea that they could be asked to "go talk to coach" at any time on any day, then you might be ready to live a life as a pro football player (as long as you are a massive human being with uncommon ability, as well).

But, given that today is the day where many teams shoot their team picture (before the injuries begin) and given that today is also the day that most teams begin preparations for their Week 1 battles to open the year, this is a good day to meet the 53.  
13 new players made the team which is certainly more than I anticipated when camp began.  But, injuries, suspensions, and a few last minute decisions from the front office made that possible.  And yes, they are on the first version of the roster, but how many are still here on October or November 1st?  
The path is never straight and there is nothing predictable about managing a NFL team through a season.  It is made more complex with at least 4 suspensions to deal with and before long, the trainer's room will start to fill up with players who are busted up.  This is a rough way to make a living.
Ok, with all of that in mind, let's see what this team looks like:
QUARTERBACKS (3):  Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, and Cooper Rush

The Cowboys got their fan base worked into a frenzy this weekend when they did what everyone wanted them to do - cut Kellen Moore.  Trouble is, they weren't really cutting him.  They were using a loophole to sneak a 54th man onto their roster.  Moore did not have to clear waivers.  They could tell him that this is just paperwork and he wouldn't even leave the complex.  I believe he is still the 2nd string QB in that if Prescott needed to leave the game Sunday, there is a 100% chance it is Kellen Moore who would enter the game.  I am not saying he is better than Cooper Rush, I am saying he is more prepared and more trusted by the coaches.  The sooner everyone accepts this truth, the sooner we can all go on to more productive time wasting exercises.  Further, I still contend that if they lose Prescott for 2 months, Tony Romo is actually the plan.  I am only half-joking.
RUNNING BACKS (5): Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Keith Smith.
This group is pretty clear.  Elliott and McFadden are the main ball carriers, Morris is suspension insurance for Elliott and injury cover for the position.  Rod Smith is working his way into the picture of the offense (although still a rare plan, I imagine) and Keith Smith is here 100% for special teams duty.  This is a lot to put at RB, but the Elliott situation makes this a bit complicated.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6):  Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer, and Noah Brown.
Again, the Cowboys went heavy here with 6.  But, they plan on 3 and 4 WR sets as rather routine plan and also have Switzer and Brown slated for considerable special teams duty.   Brice Butler looks better than he ever has and I think they are in really good shape here.  Of course, it only takes on Dez Bryant injury to sabotage that thinking (2015, 2016), but for now, I like what they have done here.  
TIGHT ENDS (3): Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
It looked like it would be 4 tight ends for a while, but the regular season unveiling of Rico Gathers is going to have to wait a bit as the Cowboys cleared a spot by placing him on IR to return when his concussion clears up.  It is difficult to say whether this is roster manipulation or whether his concussion is more severe than we first thought, but it is what it is.  Now, with Witten, Hanna, and Swaim all back, the 12 and 13 personnel packages are back to full strength.  This was an under-reported issue last season with Hanna gone and Swaim lost in Pittsburgh.  This is a real boost.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (3): Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Chaz Green
They have the best tackle in football, a very bright prospect at right tackle, and Chaz Green who would likely be ok for a short patch, but I would not consider him for full-time duty at this point.  It is important to remember that there are not many 3rd tackles in the NFL who would be considered very highly, so having Green there might give you indigestion, but know that every team in the league is in big trouble if they lose a tackle for a long spell.  It isn't quite like QBs, but there are not enough good pass-protecting tackles to go around in this league.
OFFENSIVE GUARDS (3):  Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell
They have the best guard in football (possibly), a very talented reclamation project at right guard (I am announcing Cooper is the starting LG since they won't), and a veteran stop-gap who can play guard or tackle at replacement level, or so.   It is important to remember with Green, Bell, and Joe Looney, that they believe all of them can play multiple spots if needed, so where we place the backups is more of a cosmetic exercise right now.
CENTER (2):  Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
They have the best center in football and some veteran cover in case of injury.  I know Snacks Harrison gives him fits, but the luxury of having Frederick is substantial and overlooked.
So, 25 offensive players for now.  We don't know about Elliott's spot yet and we also don't have Moore official as of this moment.  
Now, on to the defense:
DEFENSIVE ENDS (5): Demarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Charles Tapper, and Benson Mayowa
You can imagine how much fun it is to try to put a roster and then have everyone at the same position get suspended.  How different does this look with Randy Gregory, David Irving, and Damontre Moore?  You would start by saying Crawford and Irving are likely moved to tackle because you are so stacked and work from there.  Instead, they have to figure this out and try to affect the passer with some pressure.  Lawrence is in a contract year, too.  I imagine Crawford is your backup 3-technique (which is a job he is being paid amazingly well to do).  Charlton will play plenty in September and Tapper may be on the fringe of the roster when the suspensions end.  
DEFENSIVE TACKLES (3): Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, and Brian Price

Maliek Collins might be the best player on this defensive front already.  He has a chance to have a huge year at the 3-technique.  Stephen Paea was a shrewd signing and he was able to push Cedric Thornton to the street after Cedric had such a hard time staying healthy.  Price was just grabbed from Green Bay and maybe he will fit better in the 4-3 scheme as a run plugger.  Like I said above, I am sure they will be joined inside by Tyrone Crawford quite a bit on early downs.  
LINEBACKERS (7):  Sean Lee, Justin Durant, Damien Wilson, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, Jayrone Elliott, and Anthony Hitchens
There seems to be uncertainty with Hitchens and his injury, because so far they haven't put him on the IR.  This is interesting to say the least, but I think it also demonstrates their nervousness about Jaylon Smith's readiness to play a big role early.  Keep in mind they are still bracing for a Damien Wilson suspension, too.  But, as it stands, Lee and Durant will play most snaps, with Wilson and Smith chiming in.  Wilber and Jayrone Elliott will be special teams regulars and Hitchens is anyone's guess.  I imagine they will go with 6 linebackers here soon, once things start to clarify a bit with all the uncertainty.
CORNERBACKS (6):  Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Bene' Benwikere
So, here is another spot where they were never expecting to keep 6.  But, the kids have had a real issue getting their hamstrings right, so for now they bring in veteran Benwikere to provide some cover early in the first few weeks.  I imagine he is another candidate to go when the suspensions expire, but who knows?  Awuzie is close and Lewis isn't thought to be too far behind, but this was not the way they wanted to start Week 1.
SAFETIES (4): Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods.
Here is finally one spot where it went exactly like we though in late April.  Now we will see if they are as ready as management thought when they let Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox walk without much effort to keep either high-snap safety from last season and the last several years.  Lots of Jeff Heath early as we are still waiting for Woods to acclimate before he challenges for center-field duty.   Keep in mind the Cowboys have played three safeties a ton as Jones is often used as a corner.
SPECIALISTS (3):  Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, LP Ladouceur
How easy is this group to summarize?   Year after year, rinse and repeat.
So, like we said, things will happen here as Moore will be signed today.  Elliott's fate for Week 1 could also come down before dusk.  And, they could also move Hitchens to the IR, but I am guessing.  
Beyond that, this looks like your team picture.  For better or worse:

IR: Rico Gathers
Damontre Moore, David Irving

And then here is the chart that demonstrates how many the team has put at each positional group on this day over the last decade:


Your 2017 Dallas Cowboys! 

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