FRISCO, Texas – At long last, the Cowboys have a 53-man roster.
Now, obviously that’s just a starting point. An NFL roster is never truly finalized, and the Cowboys proved that on Saturday afternoon by trading a conditional draft pick for veteran corner Bene Benwikere.
The roster can and likely will change again before too long. But for the time being, here is a closer look at the Cowboys’ active roster heading into Week 1:
*Quarterback (2): Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush – *Rush was one of the biggest stories of training camp, and that is even more evident as the preseason draws to a close. The undrafted rookie was an afterthought a month ago, and now he is one of just two quarterbacks on the roster. Rush clearly outplayed incumbent backup Kellen Moore over the course of the last five weeks, and his efforts have been rewarded. Of course, the hope is that he won’t have to play at all, as Prescott is primed to build on his Pro Bowl rookie season. But if something should happen to Prescott, it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys stick with Rush or look for veteran help.
*Running back (5): Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith – *For the second-straight year, it’s a full house in the Dallas backfield. This is one of the more fluid situations on the roster, as it remains to be seen what will happen with Elliott’s ongoing suspension appeal. For the time being, he’s on the active roster. With the uncertainty around the starter, it makes sense to keep several insurance policies in the shape of McFadden and Morris. Rod Smith was solid throughout the preseason, and his abilities on special teams helped him win a roster spot. In the span of two seasons, Keith Smith has developed from a developmental longshot to a roster lock.
*Wide Receiver (6): Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown – *This will be the first time since 2012 the Cowboys carry six receivers on their initial 53-man roster, which is a testament to how good Brown was during training camp. It’s hard to imagine him having much of a role on game day unless there are injuries, but the front office clearly didn’t want to expose him to the waiver wire. The rest of this group is a no-brainer. The Cowboys’ top four receivers are back together for a third consecutive season, and Ryan Switzer should have a sizable role on special teams as a rookie.
*Tight End (4): Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers – *Yet another fluid situation. Rico Gathers is still in the concussion protocol and may need to be placed on injured reserve. However, in order to recall him from injured reserve later in the year, the Cowboys must have him on the roster to start the season. It’s likely this situation changes soon. The rest of the tight end depth chart is a no-brainer, with Jason Witten leading the way in his 15th season with the team.
*Offensive Line (8): Tyron Smith, Jonathan Cooper, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Chaz Green, Joe Looney, Byron Bell – *Eight is not a big number for a position as physical as offensive line, but the Cowboys have done it before – especially with a group this talented. Four of the starting five are set in stone, though the coaching staff still needs to officially determine a starting left guard. This group is all about versatility. Green can play both tackle and guard, while Looney can play center and guard. Byron Bell played four positions – both guard spots and both tackle spots – during training camp.
*Defensive Line (8): DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, Brian Price – *As we've said, rosters are subject to change, and that played out for the Dallas defensive line on Sunday. The Cowboys opted to part ways with veteran defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, who signed as a free agent in 2016. The move came as a bit of a surprise, as Thornton was scheduled to make $3 million this season. In his place, the front office claimed Green Bay defensive tackle Brian Price off of waivers. Price is entering his second year and gives the Cowboys a hefty option to play nose tackle -- which they had been lacking to this point. Eight is still a bit of a small number for the defensive line, but that is influenced by the suspensions of David Irving and Damontre’ Moore. Irving will miss the first four games of the season, while Moore will miss the first two. It will be interesting to see where the Cowboys cut from to bring them back to the lineup. It's worth noting that there are only three true defensive tackles on this last, but the Cowboys did keep Lewis Neal on their practice squad -- and Tyrone Crawford can play tackle if need be.
Linebacker (7): Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, Jayrone Elliott, Anthony Hitchens – Another spot gets shuffled after the initial wave of roster cuts. Mark Nzeocha made the initial 53-man roster, largely due to the injury to Hitchens. But on Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys opted to trade a 2018 draft pick to Green Bay in exchange for Jayrone Elliott. In the Packers' 3-4 scheme, Elliott played outside linebacker and rushed the passer, collecting four sacks in three seasons. It remains to be seen how the Cowboys plan to use him, but he likely has the versatility to play both on the line and off the ball. It's not expected that Hitchens needs to be moved to injured reserve while he recovers from injury, but he will miss some time. Look for Justin Durant and Jaylon Smith to combine to replace him at middle linebacker.
*Defensive Backs (10): Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Bene Benwikere, Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods – *The Cowboys clearly didn’t feel good about the back end of the cornerback depth chart after Awuzie and Lewis missed time during training camp. To rectify that, they traded for a fourth-year veteran in Benwikere. That addition gives the Cowboys a more veteran presence while Awuzie and Lewis get up to speed. In the meantime, the rest of the group looks as-expected. There are veterans aplenty at the top of the depth chart. Though it is worth nothing that the Cowboys opted for youth at safety. Young draft picks Frazier and Woods made the team over veterans like Robert Blanton and Jameill Showers.
*Special Teams (3): Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur -- *This remains one of the easiest parts of the roster to project. The trio of Bailey, Jones and Ladouceur is back for a seventh consecutive season. Bailey and Ladouceur have both made the Pro Bowl, while Jones just signed a four-year extension with the team last month.