Dallas Cowboys: Cam Lawrence

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Linebackers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
1:30
PM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 position groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Linebackers

On the roster: Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Anthony Hitchens, Rolando McClain, Will Smith, Keith Smith, Dontavis Sapp, Orie Lemon, Joe Windsor, Cam Lawrence

Locks: Carter, Wilber, Holloman, Hitchens

Inside track: Durant, Will Smith, Lawrence

Need help: McClain, Keith Smith, Sapp, Lemon, Windsor

How many fit? In a 4-3 scheme, the general answer is to go with six, but seven is a real possibility here. They ended last season with seven on the 53-man roster, although that was because they held out hope Sean Lee could return from a neck injury and didn’t put him on injured reserve.

Now that backup quarterback Kyle Orton is gone, that could open up a spot on the 53-man.

Durant will enter camp as the starting middle linebacker for Lee, who will miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but if Durant doesn’t keep the job is he certain to be around? He counts $1.46 million against the cap and the Cowboys would save more than $1 million if they let him go. I don’t see that happening because there is so little experience among the linebackers, but I can’t put him in the ‘lock’ category just yet.

McClain is the most intriguing prospect just because of his past. He was the eighth pick in the draft in 2010, but never found a fit in Oakland and retired twice before he could play a snap with Baltimore. There should be a heavy dose of skepticism, but if he wants to play and wants to work, then the Cowboys might have hit on a player for a pittance (sixth or seventh round pick in the trade with the Ravens).

Carter needs a big year for a variety of reasons, especially personally. There is no better time to turn it on than in a contract year and he is in the final year of his deal. Wilber found a home late last season on the strong side after a position switch. Holloman showed he can be a playmaker in the preseason and played well in last season's finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys drafted Hitchens in the fourth round in hopes he could be Lee’s backup, but then Lee got hurt. Hitchens has to be a main special teams’ contributor, as do the rest of the backups if they hope to make the final roster.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
IRVING, Texas -- With only $80,362 to spend on rookie free-agent signing bonuses, the Dallas Cowboys have a little advantage over other teams with three compensatory picks in the seventh round.

Instead of having to guarantee portions of a base salary to get around the bonus limit, the Cowboys can target their priority free agents with picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round on Saturday.

Last year the Cowboys guaranteed linebacker Brandon Magee $70,000, and he was among their final cuts, eventually joining the Cleveland Browns. Safety Jakar Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Safety Jeff Heath received $2,000 and became a starter.

Historically the Cowboys have done well in college free agency with Hamilton, Heath and Cam Lawrence earning spots on the 53-man roster at some point in 2013. In 2012, the Cowboys added Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar and Ben Bass as undrafted free agents. Leary is a starter, while Beasley and Dunbar have legitimate offensive roles.

Kicker Dan Bailey was the best undrafted free-agent signing in 2011 and signed a seven-year deal this offseason.

The Cowboys have six seventh-round selections.

“The seventh-round picks historically are throw-ins [in trades],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I don’t know if the league has caught up to what value a seventh-round pick is, in terms of the quote-unquote ‘charts’ that are out there. If you look at what a seventh-round pick can bring you, you start to say the player [in the seventh round] is more valuable than boosting the bottom of the six [round] to five picks, 10 picks up to the middle of the sixth when a lot of times that player will fall to you anyway. A lot of times you see it as thrown-ins. I see it as a great opportunity for us to take six players that can help our football team.”
IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe put together a story about teams that draft well and poorly with an interesting graphic.

SportsNation

Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

  •  
    21%
  •  
    49%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,576)

The Dallas Cowboys are one of six teams not to have a current starter they selected in Rounds 5-7, according to the chart, which means Volin did not count Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) as a starter even though he started most of the 2013 season. If Morris Claiborne performed up to capabilities and was not hurt, he would have been the starter. If you count Scandrick, then the Cowboys would be one of 12 teams to have one starter from Rounds 5-7.

The other five without a starter were the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have had 12 picks in Rounds 5-7 and only Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman remain.

Hitting on late-round picks is guesswork in a lot of ways. In 2004, the Cowboys hit on three seventh-rounders in Nate Jones, Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves. They all had productive NFL careers and earned second contracts.

That’s the goal: find players who can fill roles. The Cowboys kept Crayton for a second contract, but Jones and Reeves left after their rookie deals expired.

Teams build their depth through late-round picks and the Cowboys have not hit enough in the late rounds to fortify their depth. The Seattle Seahawks had an NFL-best five starters from Rounds 5-7 in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles were next with four.

Also in Volin’s chart is a look at undrafted starters. The Cowboys had a league-high five in 2013 with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Barry Church, Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had four apiece to tie for second.

For years the Cowboys have excelled in finding undrafted free agents. In the last three years they have landed Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Chris Jones, Ben Bass, Cole Beasley, Leary, Heath and Cam Lawrence.

They make up for the misses in Rounds 5-7 with hits in undrafted free agency. With three compensatory picks in the seventh round this year, the Cowboys will have the chance to draft what would have been their priority undrafted free agents.

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.

Jerry 'very concerned' for Lee's season

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
11:50
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is "very concerned" that middle linebacker Sean Lee's season might be over.

Lee
Lee suffered a sprained neck ligament during the Cowboys' Dec. 9 loss to the Chicago Bears and sat out Dallas' loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The team is calling his timetable week to week, but executive vice president Stephen Jones said Lee was “probably a long shot" to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

"I'm very concerned because [Lee] is our quarterback [of the defense], and it's glaring when he's not out there, and has been glaring the last two ballgames," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan when asked whether he was worried that Lee might miss the rest of the season. "He's the guy that not only is our leader out there in execution, but he's also the guy that is the [Tony] Romo over there."

The Cowboys have an injury crisis at linebacker with Lee, Justin Durant (hamstring), Bruce Carter (hamstring) and Ernie Sims (hip/groin) all questionable at best entering this week. Dallas finished the game against Green Bay with undrafted rookie Cam Lawrence playing weakside linebacker and sixth-round rookie DeVonte Holloman playing out of position at middle linebacker.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
7:48
PM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

What it means for the Cowboys: Mathematically the Cowboys (7-7) have everything in front of them still, which just sounds so hollow after an outcome like this.

The Cowboys had a 23-point lead against a backup quarterback and could not close the deal as they continued to find inventive ways to lose in 2013 as well as continue their December woes.

Tony Romo threw two fourth-quarter interceptions. The first led to Green Bay's game-winning touchdown and the second killed any chance the Cowboys had of coming back for the win.

With a chance to take over first place in the NFC East in their sights thanks to the Minnesota Vikings beating the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6), the Cowboys are left with another staggering loss, like the earlier ones they suffered against the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions.

SportsNation

Who was most disappointing in the Cowboys' loss to the Packers?

  •  
    12%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 21,655)

This one was the toughest to take because Aaron Rodgers was a spectator. Matt Flynn became the second backup quarterback in as many games to throw four touchdown passes against the Cowboys, joining the Chicago Bears' Josh McCown.

Romo's final pass was picked off by Tramon Williams with 1:22 to play and it sent the Cowboys fans rushing to the exits and the large number of Packers fans into hysteria after Walt Coleman overturned what had been called an incomplete pass.

Stock watch: Bill Callahan, Jason Garrett, Romo, falling. Since the Cowboys' offensive play calling is a team effort we'll go with all three as falling. The Packers could not stop DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys decided to pass, pass and pass some more when they needed to kill the clock by running, running and running. Romo's late interception to Sam Shields was a poor decision by the quarterback, but a poor call by the coaches.

Welcome back: Six days ago Dez Bryant had two catches for 12 yards against the Bears. It was his lowest output since his rookie season when he had 8 yards against Detroit on three catches.

Bryant had season highs in catches and yards and had a gigantic third-down catch in the fourth quarter on third-and-12. Bryant finished with 11 catches for 153 yards and his toe-tapping touchdown on a 5-yard catch gave the Cowboys their final lead.

Bryant had gone six games without reaching 100 yards and did not have more than nine catches in a game this season. And it could have been so much better. Romo underthrew two deep balls to Bryant, one in each half, and was off on another potential scoring throw in the first half.

But when it mattered most the Cowboys went to Cole Beasley on back-to-back plays and not Bryant.

Depleted at LB: Already without linebackers Sean Lee (neck) and Bruce Carter (hamstring) because of injuries, the Cowboys lost Justin Durant and Ernie Sims in the first half, leaving them not only thin but inexperienced.

Durant re-injured his hamstring in the first quarter and Sims suffered a hip injury on the final play of the half. That moved rookie DeVonte Holloman in at middle linebacker, and he was playing in his first game in two months due to a neck injury. And he had been an outside linebacker.

Undrafted rookie Cam Lawrence took over as the weakside linebacker and was immediately targeted by the Packers in the running game.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to FedEx Field next week to take on the Washington Redskins. It will be the fourth straight game in which the Cowboys will go against a backup quarterback with Kirk Cousins starting for Washington.

Holloman has neck examined, LB added

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
11:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Already thin at linebacker with Sean Lee and Justin Durant out with hamstring injuries, rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman is getting his neck looked again after some soreness from Wednesday's practice.

Holloman has missed the last four games with a spinal contusion. He returned to practice last week but Wednesday was his first full-padded workout since getting hurt prior to the Oct. 20 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

He was slated to start at strong-side linebacker in Durant's absence. The Cowboys moved Kyle Wilber to linebacker last week and also have Kyle Bosworth and Cam Lawrence available.

The Cowboys also signed Orie Lemon off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Lemon spent parts of the 2011-12 seasons with the Cowboys, mostly on the practice squad after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent.

To make room for Lemon on the 53-man roster, the Cowboys will have to make a roster move.

SPONSORED HEADLINES