Roster Holes Cowboys Must Fill Ahead of Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys are set to have an early start to training camp thanks to their presence in the Hall of Fame Game. While most of the league will begin camp on July 27, Dallas can open as early as this Wednesday.
The next few weeks should be filled with optimism for the Cowboys and their fans. Quarterback Dak Prescott is working his way back from last year's fractured ankle and appears poised to have a strong season for the Cowboys.
While a healthy Prescott shores up the quarterback position in Dallas, the Cowboys have a few holes that should be addressed in the coming days. There isn't a lot of time before camp, of course, but there's enough time to get another player or two into the mix before everyone reports.
These are the three biggest holes Dallas should try filling before the start of training camp.
The secondary was a need coming into the offseason, as the Cowboys ranked just 21st in passing yards per attempt allowed and 28th in scoring defense in 2020. Dallas drafted cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright in the second and third rounds, respectively, and took to free agency to address free safety.
Signing safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee could help solidify the back end, but both players come with significant injury concerns. Neal suffered a torn ACL in 2019 and a torn Achilles in 2018. Kazee suffered a torn Achilles last season.
Neal is also likely to move to linebacker in Dallas.
The Cowboys also return Reggie Robinson II, though he only appeared in five games last season with zero starts. While the remaining free-agent market isn't particularly deep—Tre Boston and George Iloka are arguably the headliners—it would behoove Dallas to add to its free safety competition before the start of camp.
If the Cowboys can add an edge-defender before camp, they should. Dallas logged a mere 31 sacks as a team last season, with 6.5 of those coining from standout pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence. Aldon Smith was second on the team with five sacks, and he left for the Seattle Seahawks in free agency.
No other Dallas defender had more than 3.5 sacks in 2020.
If the Cowboys hope to field a quality pass-rusher, they need to find a bookend defender opposite Lawrence. The tandem of Randy Gregory and third-round rookie Chauncey Golston may be serviceable, but it shouldn't be considered enough.
The good news for Dallas is that at least one high-end edge-rusher remains available. Justin Houston, who had eight sacks last season, is still unsigned. The bad news is that with just $6.1 million in cap space available, signing a player of his caliber could be difficult.
The smart move right now may be to examine the pool of undrafted pass-rushers and to bring a young player with upside into camp.
While Prescott should be ready to go in Week 1, there's no guarantee that he'll be in pre-injury form or will stay healthy through the 17-game season. Ideally he will and the Cowboys won't have to rely on any backup quarterbacks this season. However, Dallas cannot afford to have a repeat of last season if he does miss time.
The Cowboys remained somewhat competitive during Prescott's absence, thanks to the presence of veteran Andy Dalton. When Dalton was sidelined for two games, the Cowboys went 0-2 with Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert under center.
With Dalton leaving for the Chicago Bears this offseason, the Cowboys are looking at DiNucci, Gilbert and Cooper Rush as their insurance policy. The three quarterbacks have just two NFL starts between them.
Again, the hope is that Prescott won't miss any time. However, it would still be smart to bring in an experienced quarterback ahead of camp. Free-agent options are extremely limited—Ryan Finley and Matt Barkley may be the top options—but veterans like Gardner Minshew II and Nick Foles could potentially be available for the right price.
*Cap information via Spotrac.