DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys have their 53-man roster, for now, and most of the predictions about what the team would look like missed the mark. It would’ve been difficult to fathom the Cowboys cutting their special teams players and going with only one quarterback heading into the regular season, but that’s how the organization put their roster together when asked to make it official.
Obviously, there are still moves to be made after maneuvering the roster in such a way, yet it’s still an odd way of building the team. The easiest changes will include placing left tackle Tyron Smith and wide receiver James Washington on IR with a designation to return, opening two roster spots.
There were other surprises, but ultimately, all of the tactics will lead to a 53-man roster that will include all the special team fixings and a backup to Prescott by the time Week 1 arrives.
With that in mind, here are some other observations from the initial roster trimming from the Cowboys:
Three undrafted free agents earn jobs
The Cowboys brought in 20 undrafted free agents immediately after the draft and added one more before the start of the season.
Three of those players made the roster. Safety Markquese Bell, tight end Peyton Hendershot, and wide receiver KaVontae Turpin will be suiting up for Dallas. All three are also likely safe when the Cowboys finish their business to get the roster completed.
Turpin’s work on returns earned him a spot, scoring on both a kickoff and punt return to give the Cowboys a viable option in both areas.
Bell has impressed the team with his ability to play physically near the line of scrimmage, and remain fluid in coverage.
Hendershot had a good preseason that included the game-winning touchdown in the all-important Week 3 exhibition finale.
Defensive line boasts 11 options
The defensive line was one of the deepest groups for the Cowboys in training camp and the preseason. Dallas combines youth and experience to a unit that might not have many stars – yet – but it does have the potential to boast a few Pro Bowl caliber players by the time the season ends.
Dan Quinn’s defensive line has versatility, and his scheme should allow for a healthy rotation that keeps guys fresh.
Veteran defensive lineman Carlos Watkins was the odd man out as the Cowboys kept younger options at DT in Quinton Bohanna, rookie John Ridgeway, and the improved DT Trysten Hill.
This group could be shuffled a little when the roster reconstruction comes, but it should remain at least 10 strong.
Six linebackers make the cut
In a surprise, the Cowboys kept six linebackers. The top four players at the position appeared to be set in stone with Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr.
However, the consensus seemed to be that the team would choose between veteran LB Luke Gifford and rookie LB Devin Harper. In the end, Dallas opted to keep both.
Gifford has been a core special teams player, while Harper was the team’s leading tackler in the preseason, so both had a claim to stay.
Their hold on a roster spot feels tenuous. When changes arrive, don’t be surprised if one of these LBs is released and brought back to the practice squad.
Offensive line changes coming
All eyes were on the offensive line when cuts came to see who was kept. There were no surprises as the top seven players – including Tyron Smith – made it, but changes are coming. When Smith goes to IR, expect the Cowboys to bring in a veteran tackle option, either in free agency or via a trade.
Swing tackle options Josh Ball and rookie Matt Waletzko are safe for now, but there’s no way Dallas feels safe with eight offensive linemen, especially with two of them being the inexperienced Ball and Waletzko.
The team will surely be looking for another tackle, but don’t rule out the Cowboys adding more than one player to the offensive line before the season.
The Cowboys went heavy on the defensive side of the ball with 28 players. Last season the prevailing theory was that the offense was going to lead the way. It turned out that the defense would play a large role in helping the Cowboys win the NFC East title.
This season, the defense might be the unit leading the charge. Quinn spearheaded a quick turnaround in his first year with the team, and they could be even better in 2022.
The number of players kept on defense suggests that the Cowboys have a good deal of talent on that side of the ball and opted to not let players they like hit the open market.
Which areas of the roster do you think the Cowboys are strongest? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.