7 Key Takeaways on Cowboys’ Initial 53-Man Roster for 2020 Season

Jerry Jones

Getty Jerry Jones

Thoughts and observations on the Dallas Cowboys forming their tentative 53-man regular-season roster:

Surprise cut: Undrafted rookie linebacker Francis Bernard looked to have done enough to secure his roster spot. With multiple interceptions in training camp, including a pick-six of Dak Prescott, he flashed playmaking ability and an uncanny nose for the football. However, it wasn’t enough. The BYU and Utah product was among the team’s final cuts, though he reverted Sunday to the practice squad, having surprisingly cleared waivers. It’s still a risk for the Cowboys — another team can sign him away if unprotected — that could blow up in their face. He earned a place on the 53.

Biggest question mark: Linebacker. The Cowboys are carrying five — Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Luke Gifford, and Joe Thomas — and one (Lee) reportedly is headed to injured reserve. Vander Esch ended last season on IR due to a worrisome neck issue, and Dallas raised a few eyebrows by cutting dependable backup Justin March, who they’ll try to re-sign. It’s possible the club adds to the position in the coming days, or eventually promotes from their practice squad, as the depth is perilously thin.

RB-heavy: I’d stop short of classifying this as a stunner, but I can’t say I thought Dallas would carry three running backs — with or without fullback Jamize Olawale, who opted out of the season. Rico Dowdle, a rookie UDFA, impressed the coaching staff with his wiggle and work ethic, and should be a mainstay for special teams coordinator John Fassel. Dowdle won’t see many carries behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, but if either were to go down, the unit would be in decent hands.

Good drafting: In a credit to the Joneses and personnel boss Will McClay, the Cowboys’ entire seven-man draft class (WR CeeDee Lamb, CBs Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson, DL Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae, OL Tyler Biadasz, QB Ben DiNucci) made the final squad. Lamb and Diggs are practically starters and all of Robinson, Gallimore, and Anae will be locked into key defensive roles.

Better scouting: Three undrafted players (Dowdle, TE Sean McKeon, OT Terence Steele) cracked the 53 and you could argue that Steele — the tentative backup to RT La’el Collins, who reportedly will miss the first three games on IR with a hip ailment — is one snap away from starting. There’s a reason the 2020 draft class was widely hailed, and it’s well deserved.

Can we talk about … : The Cowboys’ impossibly stacked defensive line? To pair $105 million pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence with Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith is incredible in itself. To throw in Anae, Gallimore, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, Dontari Poe, Trysten Hill, and Antwaun Woods is … wow. Talk about winning in the trenches; this roster is capital-L Loaded on both sides of the ball.

Impending reunions: I mentioned the Cowboys are expected to bring back March; they’re also likely to re-sign cornerback CJ Goodwin. He won’t get extended snaps on defense, but he’s a nice insurance policy considering secondary coaches Maurice Linguist and Al Harris have corners Robinson, Daryl Worley, and Chidobe Awuzie moonlighting at safety. In related news, the Cowboys reportedly are negotiating a free-agent deal with former Ravens CB Brandon Carr, who donned the star from 2012-16. It’s understood that if Carr were brought aboard, he primarily would play safety. Dallas is in the market for help at that spot after releasing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.