Projection: 38% of the Cowboys’ roster spots are up for grabs

Coming down from the 2024 NFL Draft, we’re now getting into the May and June practices, camps, and organized team activities. From now through the end of August, players are being evaluated for their potential to contribute in the upcoming season and worthiness for a spot on the 53-man roster. But how many jobs are actually up for grabs?

Some years you can predict the 53-man roster practically right after the draft. Between returning players with clear claims on jobs and your top rookies, the roster fills up quickly. You may have little more than 8-10 jobs actually up for debate and competition.

This offseason has a different feel. With a large exodus of starters and key talent from last year, there isn’t nearly as much established going into the process. In fact, of the 53 official roster spots, we only project 33 players as locks to make the team. That leaves an inordinately high 20 slots open to the field; over one-third of the team still to be determined.

Of course, some guys are very likely to be there over others. But when we say “locks,” we mean players who’d have to hit Jerry Jones with their car to not be on the roster come Week 1. So, who are those 33 players? And why did we not include some other names who seem like they should be among them?

QB: Dak Prescott, Trey Lance
RB: Ezekiel Elliott
WR: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks
—— Jalen Tolbert
TE: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker
OT: Tyler Guyton, Terence Steele
G: Tyler Smith, Zack Martin
C: Cooper Beebe
DE: Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence
—— Sam Williams, Marshawn Kneeland
DT: Osa Odighizuwa, Mazi Smith
LB: Eric Kendricks, Damone Clark
—— DeMarvion Overshown, Marist Liufau
CB: Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland
—— Jourdan Lewis, Caelen Carson
S: Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson
—— Juanyeh Thomas
ST: Brandon Aubrey, Bryan Anger
—— Trent Sieg

There shouldn’t be many surprises, if any, on this list. It probably aligns with your projected starters fairly well, plus some other spots for key role players and developmental prospects from recent drafts. Even coming off rough rookie seasons, we know Mazi Smith and Luke Schoonmaker aren’t going anywhere this quickly. Even if competition is fierce for certain starting jobs, we expect the runner-ups to still be here as backups.

Running back was an interesting position to consider. It’s hard to see Dallas putting fans through the emotional upheaval of Zeke’s return only to cut him, or for Elliott to even come back without some pretty clear guarantees about his spot going forward. Where it falls on the depth chart, Elliott’s name will be on it. As for the rest of the position, it depends on how things go this summer and the roles the various candidates can potentially fill.

A couple of names that might surprise you are rookie CB Caelen Carson and backup S Juanyeh Thomas. On Carson, we know fifth-round picks aren’t guaranteed to make the team as rookies. But seen as a good value for where Dallas got him, plus the lack of any substantial competition after the top three, it’s hard to fathom Carson not claiming at least the fifth or maybe sixth spot on the CB depth chart. Granted, we still need to see how the likes of Nahshon Wright, Israel Mukuamu, and Eric Scott fair under Mike Zimmer and Al Harris’ leadership. But it’s going to take a pretty huge swing in their momentum, plus a huge whiff in Dallas’ scouting on Carson, for the rookie to not make the cut.

Along the same lines, we know Juanyeh Thomas also has to prove he fits as well in Zimmer’s scheme as he did in Dan Quinn’s. But the third-year prospect has shown skills that translate to virtually any setup and has the versatility to back up both Hooker and Wilson. With no new faces coming in, Thomas feels like a lock to be back in some form.

But if Thomas is safe, what about Markquese Bell? Why didn’t we include him and several other notable players from recent years? There are definitely some guys we came close to putting on the list but could see a reasonable path to their not making the Cowboys roster. Let’s talk about them.

S Markquese Bell – No doubt, Bell is highly likely to be on the team in 2024. There isn’t much competition at safety so, like with Thomas, it’s hard to see him not making it given his experience and youth. But we have to consider that he spent last year at linebacker, and with Zimmer coming in it’s already confirmed that Dallas intends to move Bell back to safety. That speaks to a philosophical shift where a player like Bell might not shine the way he did under the past regime. And as we’ve seen with past prospects, sometimes flipping positions too much is the death of their growth.

QB Cooper Rush – Will the Cowboys keep three quarterbacks? If Lance is ready to be the backup, could Dallas take the $2.25 million in cap space from releasing Rush and try to leave him on the practice squad, or even seek to trade him to a team with a QB2 need? While we expect Rush to hang around given his value in the room, there is enough room for speculation that we can’t call him a lock.

WR KaVontae Turpin – Another tough one to leave off, Turpin would seem a safe bet given his proven prowess in the return game. If anything, the NFL’s changes to kickoff rules could make him all the more lethal. But with change comes uncertainty, and Turpin has yet to establish enough worth on offense to mitigate any loss of his special teams value. If other guys show they can return kicks and punts while also inspiring more confidence in their primary roles, Turpin could be in for a fight.

C Brock Hoffman & G T.J. Bass – Once talked about as potential starters, could they now not even make the team? Again, both are probable for the roster as backups and could even compete with Beebe for the starting job at center. But if Beebe is the center this season, Hoffman and Bass could end up competing with each other for a backup job. Both could easily make it, but if both can take center snaps then Dallas might lean into that versatility and use other spots for guys with tackle potential.

There are plenty more who will probably on the roster come Week 1: RB Rico Dowdle, G/T Asim Richards, DE Chauncey Golston, DB Israel Mukuamu, and more. But they’re in tougher competitions with more variables at work. Even between now and training camp, who knows if Dallas will add new players from free agency or trades to disrupt this projection?

Whatever the case, the Cowboys’ roster feels much more open now than in past offseasons. Between the big swings in personnel movement and a new defensive coordinator, there just isn’t as much to hang your hat on in 2024 in terms of who will be in what role. It’s going to make for a very interesting summer.


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