Four things to remember when it comes to the Cowboys 53-man roster decisions

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Predicting the final roster can be tricky, but paying attention to these four things certainly helps.

We still have a little over two weeks before the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster, and there’s still plenty of opportunities for players to earn a spot on the team. Watching the action at training camp combined with all the scouting reports we hear goes a long way in trying to determine which players make the team. Guessing the roster can be a fickle thing, but that won’t stop us from trying. Last week, I made my initial guess at the 53 prior to the team’s first preseason game, and earlier in the week my colleague Tom Ryle gave it a go as well. While it’s purely speculative, we try to gather up as many pieces as we can in an attempt to get inside the minds of the front office.

To help increase out chances, here are four things to keep in mind about the Cowboys upcoming roster decisions.

Talent in the trenches is hard to find

Over the course of the NFL season, the Cowboys will acquire additional pieces to their roster as injuries show themselves and new players from other teams become available. Guys who play positions like linebacker, defensive back, running back, and wide receiver aren’t too difficult to find as there always seems to be some viable depth filler readily available. It’s the same reason those positions typically offer good selections later in the draft.

Finding good players along the offensive and defensive line isn’t as easy, so just because the Cowboys have an abundance of quality players in the trenches doesn’t mean they can just let them get away. This is also why these types of players are taken earlier in the draft. In the past, the Cowboys have acted quickly and scoured the waiver wire when addressing these positions. Players like David Irving, Brent Price, and Adam Redmond have all been signed after not making the final cuts with their respective teams.

For years, the Cowboys haven’t had very good depth in the trenches, but things are quite different now. With players like Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, Christian Covington, and even the before mentioned Redmond - the team has several guys that belong on NFL rosters. Look for the Cowboys to go deep at these position groups.

It’s wise to look down the road

While just collecting the most talented players is the ideal way to go, the Cowboys will have to make some decisions based on roster need to ensure they have adequate depth at certain positions. And that could mean looking into their crystal ball and projecting future roster needs.

The Cowboys have several players who will be playing under the final year of their contract, and which ultimately means there will be some holes to fill next season. Some position groups are more affected than others. For example, the cornerback group has both Byron Jones and Anthony Brown entering free agency in 2020. Those guys are both starters and key members of the defense. Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods (ERFA), and Christian Covington also have expiring contracts, so what does that mean for their defensive tackle situation in the future? And the Cowboys just signed Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin to one-year deals this offseason, so they’ll need some longer term commitments at the position real soon.

These situations could come into play for players like Donovan Olumba, Daniel Wise/Ricky Walker, or the younger receivers - Cedrick Wilson, Jon’Vea Johnson, and Devin Smith, who are all fighting to make the team. While some of these players may not be as NFL-ready as the team would like right now, keeping them around may be important for the future.

Special teams matter

Every year without fail, certain players make the Cowboys roster that make us scratch our heads. And one of those reasons they’re on the team could be attributed to their value on special teams. Players like Kavon Frazier and Justin March (he’s dropped the Lillard, by the way) are guys who are a liability whenever they are out there on defense; however, they are both great special teams players.

Things like this will keep players like Noah Brown on the roster, but it could help some other lesser-known guys make the squad as well. Nobody is thinking much about players like C.J. Goodwin or Darian Thompson, but these guys are really good special teams contributors and if they can hold serve as a depth piece at their positions, they are putting themselves in strong contention to earn a spot on the 53.

Must maintain “zero dollar” contracts

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but the Cowboys have three star players that are expected to get big money in Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper. Oh, you’ve heard that? Well, then you’ve probably also heard about how these deals will put a strain on the team’s ability to afford effective complementary pieces around them.

While it will be a challenge to stay within the budget of the salary cap, the Cowboys front office can pull it off. The reason we should feel optimistic about this is two-fold. First, they are ridiculously thrifty in free agency.

Second, they draft extremely well. Now, some worry that the team’s drafting “luck” will eventually run out, but let’s give Will McClay and crew some credit - they make their own luck. The team continues to replenish young cheap talent on this roster. In fact, there are currently 10 players (not including Dak) who are averaging less than a million dollars in salary who are all either starters or key rotational players (a couple of them were not drafted by the Cowboys but brought in by good scouting).

This isn’t some residual prize from the epic 2016 draft (well, two are), as eight of them (indicated in blue) have been acquired since then and are under contract for at least two more seasons (Note: Antwaun Woods, Blake Jarwin, and Brett Maher are either restricted or exclusive rights free agents in 2020, so the Cowboys are in the driver’s seat if they want to retain those guys for another year).

The way this team keeps drafting, they are showing no sign of slowing down. Players like Trysten Hill, Connor McGovern, and Joe Jackson aren’t even listed here because they have a lot to proof before getting grouped with these other guys, but they will be super cap-friendly for the next four years.