A few holes on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster went unfilled during the 2011 NFL Draft, because the team decided to select the best player available in each spot. That’s fine, as long as those weaknesses are upgraded via free agency. I don’t think you’ll see Dallas be overly active in free agency, but I do envision one top player and one solid player coming to Big D. Free safety and defensive end are the obvious areas of need.
***Note: Free agents and rookies are in bold.
Dallas Cowboys 2011 53-Man Roster
Analysis: Nothing much to dissect here. There were rumors the Cowboys would have drafted TCU quarterback Andy Dalton if he fell to No. 40 in the draft, but it looks like McGee is safe. And no, Kitna will not be the starting quarterback in 2011.
Analysis: Marion Barber will be cut within a couple months due to an upcoming bonus. The Cowboys might look at trading Choice (or cutting him outright). Jason Garrett is not a fan of his because he doesn’t play special teams well. He does produce at running back, but Murray will be the clear No. 2 option (and perhaps No. 1 within a year or two).
It’s also possible the Cowboys keep two fullbacks. Chapas is a better lead blocker than Chris Gronkowski, so he is definitely making the team. The Cowboys don’t need their fullback to be a monster in the receiving game.
I really think Garrett will want to keep two fullbacks, and it could be a reality if the ‘Boys use just one kicker this season. I think the idea of two fullbacks is horrible, as it would steal a roster spot from a player who could help in the area of offense where football games are won: the passing game. Plus, tight end John Phillips can be used as a fullback in emergencies.
Analysis: The ‘Boys could very well carry six receivers, in which case Jesse Holley and Sam Hurd are both options. I think Hurd will be gone because, despite his special teams value, his upside as a piece in the offense is limited. Rookie Dwayne Harris is a good special teams player, and if Dallas retains six pass-catchers, Holley would likely make the team ahead of Hurd because of greater upside. Ogletree is also on the roster bubble because he doesn’t quite fit with the image Garrett is clearly trying to implement on his football team.
Analysis: The only question here is whether Phillips will surpass Bennett for the No. 2 tight end job. I think there are ways to get Phillips on the field without severely limiting Bennett’s snaps. Despite concerns about Bennett’s maturity, he isn’t really a bad guy and he is much more valuable as a blocker than people realize.
Analysis: Projecting the offensive line is difficult. Davis, Kosier, Brewster and Nagy are all far from certain to make the team. I think you’ll see the Cowboys re-sign Kosier and retain Davis (even if they cut and re-sign him) because it is doubtful they’re ready to let Costa or Arkin start at guard. It’s possible they could sign a free agent, and I detailed those players in my 2011 Dallas Cowboys Free Agency Guide. Davin Joseph, Justin Blalock and Robert Gallery are among the options there.
Analysis: My first free agent signing comes with the addition of Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins is a five-technique player who is far superior to Igor Olshansky. Olshansky may very well make the team because he doesn’t cost a lot, but why? He was horrible last season and is extremely limited in what he can do. Bowen and Hatcher are both free agents, so the ‘Boys could let one of them (probably Hatcher) walk. If they keep both, I think the Cowboys will retain the upside of Lissemore over the age of Olshansky.
Analysis: I don’t think there’s much debate here. Spencer needs to step up in 2011, and I think Butler will push him for snaps. Williams’ improvement hasn’t been what the Cowboys wanted, but who is going to challenge him for a roster spot?
Analysis: I think Brooking’s spot on the roster is fine if he isn’t a progress-stopper for Lee and Carter. Lee should start and Brooking should only play in certain situations. I really like the idea of Lee and Carter as the nickel linebackers. It is difficult to keep a No. 3/4 linebacker who doesn’t play special teams, but Brooking’s leadership is worth it. Leon Williams is gone.
Analysis: The biggest surprise here is Ball still on the team. The Cowboys obviously liked Ball’s progress at cornerback in 2009, however, and he can also be thought of as an emergency option at free safety. My confidence that Ball will make the roster is shaky, because six cornerbacks is excessive and the other five are locks, in my opinion.
The only way the Cowboys can release Newman is if they sign a free agent. With a top free agent free safety a must, I don’t think the ‘Boys will have the funds for a top cornerback like Nnamdi Asomugha or Jonathan Joseph.
Analysis: The Cowboys’ starting free safety is not on the team right now. There’s obviously a reason Jerry Jones passed on a safety throughout the entire draft, and I think Huff is that reason. Donte Whitner and Dawan Landry are lower-end options.
Sensabaugh is a free agent, although I think the Cowboys would like to re-sign him. He may test the free agent market, but the abundance of free agent safeties makes it unlikely he’ll find the deal he is seeking. He could be in Dallas for one more season.
I think Barry Church and Danny McCray will fight for the final safety spot. Neither is ready to start, but Church possesses more upside and better coverage skills, in my view.
Don’t count out undrafted players DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) and Deunta Williams (UNC). I think they’d actually take Ball’s roster spot as opposed to that of a fellow safety.
Analysis: Will Garrett “save” a roster spot by either cutting Buehler or retaining him as the sole kicker? I don’t think Garrett will want to experience the Buehler field goal circus again, but I do think he realizes the value of Buehler’s touchbacks. Even with the new kickoff rule, Buehler’s ability to kick the ball through the end zone will be worth a ton. Give him a year to work on his field goals behind a player like Brown (who is already on the offseason roster). David Akers is also reportedly an option.
Notable Cuts/Left Unsigned
OT Marc Colombo
RB Marion Barber
DE Igor Olshansky
FB Chris Gronkowski
G Montrae Holland
S Danny McCray
WR Jesse Holley
WR Teddy Williams
DE Marcus Spears
LB Leon Williams
WR Sam Hurd
OT Alex Barron
Analysis: Yes. Yes. Yes. Colombo and Barber gone. The Cowboys may miss Barber’s pass protection in 2011, but they missed Colombo’s pass protection in 2010. I honestly believe the Cowboys score three or four more points per game with Smith at right tackle over Colombo.
The players on this list with the best opportunity to make the roster are Olshansky, Gronkowski, McCray and Holley. Spears is a free agent and probably won’t be back, so Dallas will need to replace his run-stopping ability. Right now, I’m not sure who will do that.