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Dallas Cowboys Roster Construction Moving Forward

Last Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys season came to an end with a 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, leaving fans, players, coaches and ownership less than satisfied, to say the least. With Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn hitting the interview circuit, this staff is likely to see change. In addition, the Dallas Cowboys roster has 23 players hitting free agency this offseason (20 UFA, 1 RFA, 2 ERFA) and are currently estimated to be $13.6M over the 2022 salary cap.

After the Cowboys signed 13 players to their reserve/future list, they currently have 54 players under contract heading into the offseason. Let’s take a look at what this Dallas Cowboys roster currently looks like moving forward.

dallas cowboys roster
Credit: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

Offense | Dallas Cowboys Roster

Quarterbacks:

Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier, Ben DiNucci

Though Prescott’s struggles after returning from a calf injury are concerning for this team, he is locked in as the Cowboys’ signal-caller for at least two more seasons (there is a potential out in his contract after 2023). Cooper Rush’s performance in his lone start of the season also likely keeps him in place as the primary backup for the final year of his contract.

As for Grier and DiNucci, we didn’t hear either name called once the regular season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, this roster could use a young developmental passer behind Prescott and Rush, and the jury is still out on whether it will be Grier or DiNucci in 2022.

Running Backs:

Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Sewo Olonilua, Nick Ralston, JaQuan Hardy, Ito Smith

With seven running backs under contract heading into the offseason, it would appear Dallas has enough candidates they like to fill the three or four slots allotted to the position next fall. Despite all the talk about Elliott entering this season in the best shape of his life, he just doesn’t look like a feature back anymore.

Yes, I’m sure the injuries were a big factor in his performance, but even when healthy, it was clear that his days of creating yards on his own were behind him. Having said that, the Cowboys can’t afford to move on from his contract until after next season, making 2022 a make-or-break campaign for Elliott.

Tony Pollard continued his trend of proving why he should get more touches in this offense, and with one year remaining on his deal, he will almost assuredly return to his role complimenting Elliott.

From there, this group has a lot to prove. Dowdle had a terrific preseason before getting injured. Still, if he’s full-go when the offseason program begins, I expect him to be the front-runner for the third spot heading into next year.

It appeared Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore had a plan for Olonilua before his injury in camp. While there was some buzz about Ralston as a lead-blocker, Dallas didn’t seem comfortable trusting him with anything more than special teams’ duties. However, considering their skillsets, the Cowboys could groom either for a fullback role this offseason.

As for Hardy and Smith, with the Cowboys bringing them back, they obviously liked the work ethic and character these two brought to the practice squad. It certainly looks like Dallas is comfortable with who they have at running back.

Wide Receivers:

Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Simi Fehoko, T.J. Vasher, Brandon Smith, Robert Foster

This Cowboys’ group of receivers in 2021 is one of the bigger reasons to be disappointed with a first-round playoff exit. When healthy, Cooper, Lamb, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and Malik Turner were among the best receiver groupings in the league.

With four of those players heading to free agency, this unit is bound to look different next fall. Still, it’s nice to have Cooper and Lamb returning, assuming Cooper isn’t shipped out to create cap space (we will discuss that in a future story).

While Fehoko had his ups and downs in camp, Dallas saw enough to dress him five times. Vasher spent most of the year on IR, effectively earning himself a redshirt year. Still, he brings incredible size to this group that should give him a fighting chance next fall.

Smith had some bright flashes in training camp, and Foster is a veteran that has proven he can help on special teams. Still, both are likely to slide down the depth chart as additions are made over the next four months.

Tight Ends:

Blake Jarwin, Sean McKeon, Ian Bunting

A Pro Bowl-worthy campaign from Dalton Schultz is another reason to be disappointed about this early-playoff exit. With him hitting free agency and the Cowboys’ current cap situation, it’s likely someone pays Schultz top money to lure him away from Dallas.

In addition, Jarwin’s position on this roster is lukewarm after an injury-riddled year (the second to start his three-year extension). He is another possible cap-casualty, and depending on him to stay healthy in the final year of his extension seems like a stretch.

Sean McKeon appeared to be making a huge jump in his progression before a preseason injury but was able to come back and play a role for this offense down the stretch. It’s likely his role expands with a healthy offseason.

Bunting has been a journeyman early on as a tall, long player with projectable traits. However, he’s yet to catch an NFL pass and spent the year on the Cowboys’ practice squad, dressing just once. It’s safe to say that this group will need an addition or two this offseason.

Offensive Linemen:

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Tyler Biadasz, Terence Steele, Connor McGovern, Josh Ball, Matt Farniok, Isaac Alarcon, Aviente Collins, Braylon Jones

Despite an extremely underwhelming season from this unit, it could very well stay intact for the most part. Yes, Smith and La’el Collins both have contracts that make them potential cap-casualties, but they are also a full year past the season-ending injuries they suffered in 2020.

Martin is still one of the most reliable football players at any position in the league. La’el Collins has position flexibility that could help get Steele into the starting lineup where he thrived most on the right side.

Biadasz struggled early on but ultimately showed improvement throughout his first full season as a starter. McGovern could not keep the left guard job that is now available with Connor Williams hitting free agency.

Ball could not show anything as an injury kept him on IR for nearly the entire season. The potential is there to develop into a swing tackle and even a starter, but assessing his development will be tricky after a redshirt year.

Matt Farniok showed some potential in limited action as a rookie, while Alarcon, Jones, and Aviente Collins were all on the practice squad. There will likely be some additions in some form or fashion, with possible cuts being the determining factor on how high that priority will be.

Micah Parsons NFL betting trends 49ers vs Cowboys prediction picks against the spread
Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Defense | Dallas Cowboys Roster

Defensive Linemen:

Demarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, Tarell Basham, Quinton Bohanna, Trysten Hill, Chauncey Golston

This was one of the most improved units on the roster. A big part of it had to do with the front office getting Dan Quinn his brand of player, as well as the defensive staff’s ability to work their magic with several returning players.

Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong had breakout years in Dallas, and it appeared Neville Gallimore would have as well if not for the elbow injury. On top of that, the draft picks of Odighizuwa, Golston, and Bohanna, and free-agent additions of Basham, Carlos Watkins, and Brent Urban gave this line the depth and talent Quinn needed to rotate his players regularly.

With four of the aforementioned players hitting free agency, there is room for this group to improve, but also plenty of potential to groom. Odighizuwa and Gallimore look like an intriguing pair to rotate, while Bohanna had some flashes at the nose.

Trysten Hill still has untapped potential despite being drafted by a previous regime for a much different scheme. Golston brings versatility, work ethic, and character to this group, and Basham brings a veteran presence.

Then, of course, there is Lawrence, who is one of the more underrated, ye impactful defensive linemen in football when healthy. Some may argue his sack total doesn’t live up to the expectation of his contract, and if Dallas agrees, he could certainly end up being a cap casualty.

Still, his value is undeniable on tape, and he’s the unquestioned leader on this defense. While cutting him would open up a lot of money, it would also open another slot to fill on a unit that will already need help this offseason.

Linebackers:

Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Devante Bond

With Luke Gifford being a restricted free agent and Francis Bernard being an exclusive-rights free agent, this group could have more returning players than just these three. Still, having Parsons back brings enough excitement on its own merit.

As a rookie, he was one of the most gifted and disruptive defenders in the league, and the scary part is we may not have seen his best football. With the Cowboys throwing a ton of different responsibilities at him, his gifts stood out more than his technique or instincts.

However, as he puts more work into different pass-rush techniques, he may become one of the premier sack artists in the league. I also think his instincts will grow as he sees more reps as an off-the-ball linebacker, which will unlock his ability to put up high tackle numbers.

We heard many compare him to Lawrence Taylor this past year, but the truth is, the more accurate comparison is Derrick Thomas. Like Thomas, Parsons doesn’t have a traditional pass rushers build, but his gifts are so special that it would be a tragedy not to use him in as many ways as possible.

Thomas opened his career with ten sacks and 75 tackles. Parsons, who has similar measurables, opened with 13 sacks and 84 tackles. It should be fun to see him grow in the foreseeable future.

In addition, Cox has a skill set built to shine in coverage. Once healthy, he should be an essential part of this defense. Bond has been a bit of a journeyman in his career and will likely provide veteran depth on the 90-man roster while Dallas seeks more help at the position.

Cornerbacks:

Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Kelvin Joseph, Nashon Wright, Reggie Robinson, Kyron Brown

Like the offensive line, the cornerbacks are set to come back intact, outside of some possible cuts to create cap space. Anthony Brown and Lewis both fit the bill there, but that decision will come down to how confident the Cowboys are in everyone not named Diggs.

Joseph showed flashes in his opportunities late in the season, which could signify that at least one of those two could be expendable. Considering they both can play in the slot, it would make sense to see one let go.

However, while Anthony Brown and Lewis had their ups and downs, they each put up career-highs in interceptions and passes defensed. That is going to make this decision difficult.

Wright got far less time than Joseph, though he did show a knack on special teams. Robinson had some flashes in the preseason despite a season-ending injury. He also entered the league with a reputation as on special teams.

Kyron Brown also dressed once and played on special teams. While an addition is not necessary, I doubt the Cowboys will hesitate if the right guy falls to them with a top 100 pick.

Safeties:

Donovan Wilson, Israel Mukuamu, Tyler Coyle

While the corner could all return, the opposite is true at safety. Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee, and Malik Hooker played 2,477 of 2,910 defensive snaps at the safety position, and all three are hitting free agency. Wilson was set to start heading into the year, but injuries and the play of Hooker helped divide those reps when he finally got back.

Wilson could return to his initial role, but he is still a more capable player against the run than the pass. While Mukuamu played well in training camp, I was disappointed that he didn’t get more opportunities during the year.

I thought he could have spelled Kearse at times and hoped he’d get the start in that role in the final game against Philadelphia that Kearse missed. Still, there are only so many players that can dress.

It will be interesting to see what he brings in year two in the NFL. I’m also intrigued by Coyle’s skill set, which resembles a mix of what Wilson can do, as well as linebacker Keanu Neal. All three of the returning safeties could return, but this unit will need an impact addition or even two.

Dallas has balked at prioritizing safeties in the draft, but this may be the year they are forced to abandon that notion.

Special Teams | Dallas Cowboys Roster

Greg Zuerlein, Hunter Niswander, C.J. Goodwin

Bryan Anger will head to the Pro Bowl, then free agency, while Jake McQuade also has an expiring contract. That’s two-thirds of this kicking unit that needs to be retained or replaced heading into the offseason.

Niswander is still under contract in Dallas, which could solve one issue. Still, Anger was outstanding for Dallas in 2021, and keeping him should be a priority.

It’s also important to point out two things about Greg Zuerlein. First, this was an up-and-down season at a position in which that kind of performance can be maddening. Secondly, cutting Zuerlein can save Dallas $2.5M in cap space.

The bottom line is the Cowboys have a big decision about the only part of their kicking game that is still under contract. That means additions are coming.

As for Goodwin, he’s found a home here as a special team’s ace, and Dallas has been unwilling to let him get away over the last four years. He’s got one more season under contract, and the Cowboys will be thrilled to have him.


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