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3 & Out

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3 & Out: Roster Building, O-Line Options & Moore


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the first-place Cowboys (6-1) get ready for the start of two-game home stand over the next two weeks:

  • Roster Building
  • Kellen Moore
  • La'el Collins

I Know…
there's a lot of different ways to build a team in the NFL.

The Cowboys have their way. The Rams, another NFC contender, have theirs. Both teams have lost only one game by the first week of November.

Who's to say which way is better?

Monday's Von-Miller-to-LA news has sparked a fun debate about roster-building in the NFL. The Rams splashed the pot by reportedly trading a 2022 second- and third-round draft pick to the Broncos for the eight-time Pro Bowl pass rusher.

LA, as its Rounders-related Twitter post referenced, is all-in for a Super Bowl run. The Cowboys are all-in, too – with a different approach.

It's no secret that Dallas values high draft picks. Dealing a first-rounder in 2018 for Amari Cooper – the fourth-quarter hero against the Vikings last Sunday – has proven to be a terrific decision then and now. But the front office didn't part with that pick easily.

Meanwhile, the Rams have built one of the NFL's most dynamic rosters in part by sacrificing draft capital. They traded 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to Jacksonville for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They currently don't have a 2022 first-, second-, fourth- or sixth-round pick because of trades for Miller, quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Sony Michel. They also sent their 2023 first-rounder to Detroit for Stafford.

To recap, the Rams haven't made a first-round pick since Jared Goff in 2016 and might not do so again until 2024. If they win a Super Bowl this year, no one will care. And LA is obviously an attractive free agent destination, so maybe that factors into their philosophy.

Regardless, it's a bold strategy that cuts against the more common build-through-the-draft approach in a league with a hard salary cap.

The Cowboys are always walking that cap tightrope, too, but majority of their payroll goes to players they drafted. They just handed Dak Prescott a $160 million contract with reportedly the largest signing bonus ever ($66 million). With that much of the pie absorbed, the club relies on the draft to find and develop players on cap-friendly contracts for four or five years. That's why they used all 11 picks in April, opting not to trade any away to move up or down the draft.

This 6-1 start shows that style is working, too. At least a dozen key contributors on this year's team are still on their rookie deals.

As Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan, "We certainly have an opinion about how we're going to go about our business but know there's a lot of ways to skin the cat out there, if you will. And that's what makes the game so much fun to watch and see which situations pan out the best."

The Cowboys won't see Miller when they face the Broncos this Sunday at AT&T Stadium. But it wouldn't be a surprise if they face Miller and the Rams sometime in January.

I Think…
it's never ideal when Dak Prescott doesn't play, but that in-season adversity has probably helped Kellen Moore grow as an offensive coordinator.

Think about this: In the last 18 regular-season games going back to 2020, five different quarterbacks have started for the Cowboys: Prescott, Ben DiNucci, Andy Dalton (now with Chicago), Garrett Gilbert (now with New England) and most recently Cooper Rush.

That's a lot of variance in game experience, and a lot of game-plan adjustments required for Moore, who must tailor a strategy around a player's specific strengths.

The task last week wasn't too difficult. As Moore said, he's worked with Rush every year since 2017 – initially as teammates in the quarterback room – and the Cowboys' offense didn't seem to change much against the Vikings.

The good news is Prescott should be back soon, quite possibly this Sunday against Denver. But Rush's success is more proof of Moore's adaptability in his third year as an OC.

"I think it helps your growth as a play caller tremendously. And really the experience last year is where he developed in my opinion the most," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "When you're playing three, four, five quarterbacks in a season, that's extremely difficult. I think it I had it happen in '06 (in Green Bay) and obviously we went through it last year and we went to our second quarterback this year (against the Vikings). It requires a discipline and the patience to be higher as a play caller. I think it's a great experience for him, especially for as young as he is."

I Have No Idea…
at this point if Tyron Smith (ankle) will play against the Broncos, but I'm curious to see if indeed La'el Collins is an option at left tackle if needed.

McCarthy said the staff already discussed that idea Monday and said, "We're going to let the game plan process answer it for us."

"Do you want to make two moves for one injury? Do you want to go one for one? We have also have talked about the reps these guys had throughout training camp, too. We keep track of all of that. It's footwork familiarity. And once you get in the plan, you talk about matchups, so we will let the game plan process answer those questions in the next 24 hours."

Thinking back to Oxnard, I don't recall Collins taking a practice rep at left tackle. He has been exclusively at right tackle since 2017 when healthy and active. But he did start 25 games at left tackle for LSU in 2013 and 2014. As a sophomore in 2012, he started 13 games at left guard, the spot where he began his NFL career in Dallas.

Collins took snaps at left guard in practice last week and said Friday that playing on the left side "is a natural thing" for him. What about tackle, too, then?

Ty Nsekhe has been the backup left tackle when healthy this season, and perhaps the Cowboys will try not to overload Collins, who's already been working at two other positions since returning from a five-game NFL suspension. But it's something to watch moving forward if Smith misses any time.

McCarthy said Tuesday that Smith would be "pressed to play" this week, which means it doesn't sound too likely at this point. Understandably, he didn't want to reveal the team's contingency plans, so we'll see.

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