As we jam quite a few things together on cut-down weekend, I hope you don't mind our Friday mailbag actually being moved back to Sunday morning this one time. We had to wait until the Cowboys made their decisions, and caution you there are likely a few more today to be made. But, for now, let's see what you all have to say and I will answer your questions the best I can.
Q: After being so attached to Moore for so long, what do you think finally put Cooper Rush over the top to force Dallas to keep him?
There is no question the biggest story on cut-down day is the Cowboys letting Kellen Moore go as a released player. That got a lot of people pretty fired up because that was also the biggest argument amongst Cowboys fans over the last few weeks - how could the Cowboys like Kellen Moore more than this kid Cooper Rush?
So, it got sorted yesterday, right? They obviously didn't like Moore more than Rush, right?
I still think there is more to come here. Possibly by this afternoon. I think the Cowboys saw a way to work around the system. Let's start with the idea that this year you may now have two players return from injured reserve during the season. So, you can basically have two roster exemptions in your 53-man roster. HOWEVER, you must also have them on your roster on the final cut-down day. That keeps teams from trying to keep 55 players.
But, the way around this is also simple - just cut a player or two that you value more than anyone else or that agrees to go along with you because he does not need to clear waivers - and then bring them back the moment you place Anthony Hitchens and/or Rico Gathers on the IR-DTR. Once that is done, they are back to 51 players and then they can re-add two players (provided they are still out there).
Now, Cooper Rush would have had to clear waivers and possibly would have been claimed by someone else. Kellen Moore is the type of player who is always out there on the streets. I suspect they sat there and figured they like him more than anyone else (they do) and Kellen knows this (he does). So, they could actually work around the 53-man constraints by cutting him for 24 hours.
Again, I could be wrong, but I anticipate next Sunday that Kellen Moore will be active as the 2nd QB for the Giants game and Cooper Rush will be the 3rd. Let's see what the next 48 hours brings us.
Q: Do you think there's any chance Kellen Moore doesn't end up on the practice squad? Would anyone else want to sign him?
No, I don't think he is going to the practice squad. And, I don't think Kellen Moore would be signed elsewhere. This is about simple trust for his football acumen from Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan. I think they want him to help Dak Prescott prepare for action and to be ready in a pinch to play a few quarters in an emergency. They like Cooper Rush for the future far more. But, this is very early in Rush's career, and I suspect they want Moore for now - and then hope he doesn't actually have to play.
Q: Were you surprised by the number of draft picks from this year's class that were cut?
To be honest, no. The Cowboys entire roster had very few openings this year. I know people are making a big deal about losing all those defensive backs in Mo Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox. But, beyond that, Ron Leary and Doug Free also bounced out of here as well as Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford up front on the DL. So, that is roughly 8-10 players.
But, they added Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, and Rico Gathers from last year's draft class that didn't even play a snap as a group in 2016. They also added Jonathan Cooper, Nolan Carroll, Byron Bell, and Stephen Paea as veterans before the draft to fill spots. So, 8 players out and 7 in before we get to the draft.
Now, here comes a 9-player draft class. You simply don't have room for all of them. There just aren't enough jobs available for those players even if they can play. That said, the 5 they picked in the first 200 picks all made the squad and they have big plans for. The last 4 were going to have to outperform quite a bit to make a spot. It looks like Noah Brown was the only one who did, with Joey Ivie, Jordan Carroll, and Marquez White being exposed to waivers and then possibly on to the practice squad for now. White had the best chance, but didn't really get on the field enough and Ivie and Carroll were outplayed by undrafted rookie Lewis Neal - who also didn't get a spot.
But, as it stands, the only players they set free were from picks #216, #228, and #246. And it is pretty hard to think players taken that deep in the draft are assured of making the team. The more picks you make, the more you have to make room for. The Cowboys aren't a rebuilding team. They won 13 games last year and it was going to be tough to get a job here. Like I said, we knew 50 of their 53 before camp even started. So, this is no surprise to most of us.
Q: Any insight into the new CB Bene' Benwikere from Cincy?
Well, first of all, it is his 26th birthday today. So, there is that.
Also, he is roughly 18 months removed from joining the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 - however, he was on injured reserve for their playoff and Super Bowl run. He did, however, play a ton of corner for the Panthers from 2014-16 as part of their primarily zone defenses. He was released when they were destroyed by Atlanta last season and has been briefly signed by Miami, Green Bay, and Cincinnati ever since.
For a few weeks, we have wondered how the Cowboys could expect to deal with Eli Manning and his cast of talented receivers if all of these rookies have yet to recover from their injuries. Now, we know - we shouldn't expect much from Awuzie or Lewis until they are fit. This is surely a stop-gap with a conditional draft pick sent to the Bengals for some veteran cover at cornerback until they get healthy. I imagine this move cost Marquez White his roster spot, but now with Giants week here, they can use Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, and even Byron Jones as cover guys. Then if they need to go deeper, they will use Benwikere until these rookies get it back together.
If he really impresses, perhaps they will have some decisions to make, but I suspect unless one of those top 3 get injured, this is a pure depth play for the first few weeks.
Q: What should the expectations be for Taco Charlton in his rookie season?
For me, the expectations are simple for Taco Charlton - continue to be that active body who swoops in and cleans up plays when the QB holds the ball too long and use his high motor ability to run into stops. Continue to learn on the fly and be molded by Rod Marinelli.
He has a real athletic build and I would like to see him capitalize on his size and just be a force. I have talked about his limitations on the edge, but now let's focus on why he should be a 5-6 sack guy right away. This defensive pass rush scheme is based on collective engagements where they use each other to create chaos in the pocket. Guys get sacks from activity, not overpowering moves, quite a bit. They are stunting and flashing around and the QB runs into someone's arms as he avoids another. This is where he should excel, and it will often be just because he remains active. And, he should get plenty of work early with suspensions to David Irving and Damontre Moore.
Q: Can Dez Bryant be a top-three NFL receiver this season?
Can he? Sure. Is this a fantasy question? Because I don't think he can match the numbers that will be put up by teams that throw the ball a ton. But, will he be a unstoppable force? Sure.
I have written about my concerns about Dez and his body. I think we should be concerned that his style has caused him to be injured quite a few times in the last few years because he refuses to give up on a play or run out of bounds. I think that will be an issue moving forward. But, on any given play he looks as impressive as anyone in the sport.
So, I would not rate him with Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Mike Evans, and that group at the very top for pure production and most of those guys are pretty durable, too. But, he can flash up there at any moment and is surely in that next tier of #6-#10 receivers in the league.
I am sure many of you will disagree and put him at the top, but I need him to be fit for a whole season again, first.
Q: Who is one defensive player who is flying under the radar that can have a big year for the Cowboys?
Jeff Heath. Since many of you already want him on the sideline, I would say that constitutes "flying under the radar". One of the most impressive players in the preseason for me was Damontre Moore. I hate that he is suspended for the first 2 games, because I think he can have a 8-sack season if he gets the chance. Not sure he will because Benson Mayowa earned that spot last season, but those are probably the two names I like more than others. Stephen Paea, too, but that is not a splash-play position at the 1-technique.
Q: Dak Prescott had trouble against the Giants last season. How does he fix that this season?
Well, this will come down to the Linehan offseason for me. Never have you had 9 months to sort something out quite like this. The Cowboys offense mowed through pretty much every challenge imaginable in 2016 with the exception of the New York Giants. You had 2 games of snaps to sort out what they did against you and how they made your offense look feeble at times.
In this league, much of the offseason is spent on your division rivals and how they present issues for you and you work on solutions. I would like to think that the Cowboys spent an entire week or two figuring out how Steve Spagnuolo and his troops did so well and worked on counters.
This one is not on Dak. They were out schemed in Week 14 in New York. This is on Linehan and his staff to have plans for when the Giants start cutting off all of the Cowboys normal paths on offense.
Is it rub routes? Is it more play-action? Is it a way to free up Dez from his predictable routes in tight press coverage?
I will be interested to see what their plan is, but let's hope the Cowboys don't roll out the same offensive ideas and expect that the Giants can't keep up. Because the Giants built their defense to stop the Dallas offense. And last year, it worked quite well.