- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The draft is done. Free agency is dragging to the finish line. That means it's about time for the first ridiculously premature 53-man roster projection of the year, an exercise we'll repeat on a weekly basis once training camp begins.
At some point, the Cowboys need to invest a draft pick in a developmental quarterback again. Maybe next year. For now, carrying only two QBs saves a roster spot for somewhere else.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Tanner needs to impress new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in the preseason. He also needs to beat out undrafted free agent Kendial Lawrence, a Rockwall product via Missouri. No fullback? Lawrence Vickers was a disappointment last season and is coming off of back surgery, and the Cowboys can phase out that position with their renewed emphasis on multiple-tight end sets.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
There’s a lot of young talent here along with Austin, who might not be worth his $54 million deal but is at least a very good No. 2 receiver if he can stay healthy. Harris and Beasley are good enough in the slot to give Austin occasional breaks. The issue with Beasley: How can he help you on special teams with Harris handling punt returns?
TIGHT ENDS (3)
This could be one of the best pass-catching tight end corps in the league. The problem: Both of Witten’s backups are adequate at best as blockers. Keeping (or acquiring) a rugged fourth tight end is a distinct possibility.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
You don’t want to see Free on here, right? Well, that decision is apparently up to him. The Cowboys have presented him the option of taking a pay cut. They hope he accepts it. If he doesn’t, they’ll make him a post-June 1 cut and sign a right tackle in free agency. The top two candidates are Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston, but the Miami Dolphins are likely to sign one of them soon. And Clabo could be out of the Cowboys’ price range. On another note, can Costa be the short-yardage fullback?
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Jerry Jones declared the defensive line to be a position of strength while ignoring it on draft weekend. That’s a curious decision, considering the age of the starters and the lack of proven depth. The Cowboys need 2012 third-round pick Crawford to prove this season that he’s a starting-caliber player, whether it’s at defensive tackle or the strongside end.
Lee and Carter are studs if they can stay healthy, but that’s a big if given their injury histories. The Cowboys gave Magee, an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, more guaranteed money ($70,000) than any seventh-round pick got last year.
Scandrick probably needs to have a good season to prevent the Cowboys from making a cap casualty next year. If they’re right on fourth-rounder Webb, he can play the slot for about a tenth of Scandrick’s salary. The Cowboys need Claiborne to live up to his billing after a so-so rookie season that fell well short of the sky-high, Jerry-aided hype.
Allen and McCray might be the best special teams players on the roster, but their roster spots are far from guaranteed, especially if the young safeties perform well in training camp and the preseason. Allen got a smaller signing bonus than camp cut Brodney Pool did last year, and McCray returned on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent.
No reason to make any changes here, as long as Jones is fully healthy coming off of a season-ending knee injury.