The Cowboys made unconventional roster choices. Here’s what they mean

By David Helman
FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer

We knew the Cowboys were going to get tricky, but they’ve outdone themselves.

On a roster stocked with young, developing talent, the Cowboys’ front office brain trust went out of its way to avoid risk during Tuesday’s roster cuts. As the NFL’s deadline to reach a 53-man roster approached, Dallas parted ways with several veteran players.

The reasoning is obvious, as we’ve been over in this space on multiple occasions during the preseason. Vested veterans, who have accrued three or more seasons in the league, can be released and re-signed without going through the NFL waiver wire. Rookies and other young players must pass through that system, enabling them to be claimed by the 31 other teams before they revert to free agency.

With all that being said, it’s obvious the Cowboys plan to do a lot of work on their roster in the coming days, as they settle in for the start of the regular season.

Let’s take a look through the roster and try to determine what comes next.

QB: Dak Prescott

The Cowboys’ roster finagling looks most obvious at quarterback, where Dak Prescott is currently the only guy with a job. We spent a month hand-wringing about the backup battle between Cooper Rush and Will Grier, and the front office ultimately decided to cut both players.

That doesn’t mean anything just yet. Rush is vested and can re-sign whenever. And while Grier does have to pass through waivers, there’s no guarantee he’ll be claimed after only playing in two preseason games. Look for at least one of these guys to come back to the fold, and it’s feasible that both could return.

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RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle

Nothing interesting to report. The top two were givens, and Rico Dowdle got the nod as the third running back, as expected. Malik Davis has been waived despite an impressive camp. If he isn’t claimed by another team, look for him on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

WR: CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, James Washington, Jalen Tolbert, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, KaVontae Turpin, Dennis Houston

Dennis Houston ultimately did enough to earn a roster spot. That’s the biggest takeaway, as the Cowboys kept a whopping eight receivers. It won’t stay that way, though. Washington will be moved to injured reserve this week, where he can continue to rehabilitate his broken foot. Gallup isn’t fully healthy just yet, although Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday morning that the veteran would be gearing up to play if the Super Bowl was next week, rather than the season opener.

Best guess is that Tolbert, the rookie third-round draft pick, and longtime backup Noah Brown join Lamb in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay. But it’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Kellen Moore incorporates speedy return man Turpin into the offense.

TE: Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot

Hendershot, the undrafted rookie out of Indiana, picked the best time possible to have a good week. Not only did he play well in the preseason finale, but his breakout party came at the same time that veterans Jeremy Sprinkle and Sean McKeon were sidelined by injuries.

Don’t be surprised if McKeon, or another tight end, winds up on the practice squad. But the young duo of Ferguson and Hendershot were impressive enough to convince the Cowboys to go very light at the position.

OL: Tyron Smith, Connor McGovern, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Terence Steele, Tyler Smith, Matt Farniok, Matt Waletzko, Josh Ball

Much like receiver, we’ll see some change here. For starters, Tyron Smith will be headed to injured reserve after that unfortunate knee injury just last week. All signs point toward Tyler Smith taking over at left tackle. But the Cowboys’ tackle depth looks awfully thin, and the smart money suggests they’ll find a way to add a veteran in the coming days.

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With Farniok offering versatility between guard and center, the interior looks decent enough. But I would be surprised if the Cowboys start the season without adding veteran depth outside.

DL: DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Dante Fowler Jr., Tarell Basham, Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, Quinton Bohanna, Chauncey Golston, Trysten Hill, John Ridgeway

It says a lot about the depth of this group that one of last year’s starters, Carlos Watkins, was released on cutdown day. It was expected that the Cowboys would go heavy with this position, but 11 is even more options than many anticipated. Keeping Basham gives them an extra insurance policy for DeMarcus Lawrence, while Trysten Hill arguably played his way onto the roster with a strong training camp.

LB: Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Anthony Barr, Jabril Cox, Luke Gifford, Devin Harper

These are the types of decisions you can make when you only keep one quarterback. Those extra roster spots can be given to guys like Gifford and Harper. The common logic was the front office would only be able to keep one, but they found a way to keep both.

DB: Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, DaRon Bland, Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, Israel Mukuamu, Markquese Bell

Not much to see here, as this group shook out exactly the way most thought. The Cowboys have a secondary full of solid veteran starters, with a handful of promising young draft picks for depth. Bland deserves mention for outplaying Joseph and Wright throughout camp. It’s also impressive that Bell lived up to the hype of being this summer’s most talked-about undrafted free agent, delivering on the buzz by making the roster. Don’t be surprised to see longtime special teamer C.J. Goodwin re-sign at some point before preparations begin for Tampa Bay.

ST: Bryan Anger

Two more roster spots created out of thin air. Brett Maher and Jake McQuaide are going to be on this team, but it cost the Cowboys nothing to cut them and they can re-sign later this week. When all the other roster maneuvering is done, those two should be back in the fold.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter @davidhelman_.

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