Cowboys have jobs open; who will secure them?

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys close the preseason tonight against the Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium.

On a team that did not have very many open competitions at the start of training camp, only a few spots remain up for debate at the bottom of the roster.

“There are spots open and they are competing not only against what’s here on this team, but they’re competing against all of the other players in the NFL right now,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “They know it’s not just on this team where the competition is. It’s going to be a big game for a lot of players that are looking for those last four or five roster spots that are on the line. I know they are aware of that. And I know the coaches make them aware of it. But nothing is given to you, so it’s going to be a big deal.”

The Cowboys have to reach the 53-man roster limit on Saturday and already have had discussions regarding how many players to keep at each position, but they have not finalized their thoughts. Jason Garrett said a player can’t win a job with one solid performance in the final preseason game, that the team used the entire summer as an evaluation period.

But a strong showing tonight won’t hurt.

Here are some players who have something to prove:

Dustin Vaughan

He made the Cowboys keep a third quarterback last year by showing promise in the preseason games. He has not shown the same promise this summer, but will get another opportunity tonight. Vaughan possesses a strong arm and is coachable.

He has had a difficult time cutting it loose this training camp, seemingly getting frustrated with the work of the backup offensive linemen, receivers or both. After a good showing in the first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, Vaughan has locked in on receivers and forced throws.

The Cowboys want to have a young quarterback in their system, especially with Brandon Weeden in the final year of his deal and Tony Romo entering his 13th season. Could Jameill Showers get in the mix? Yes, but Vaughan has the leg up.

Darrion Weems

Weems can’t complain about a lack of action. He has seen a ton of time in the first three preseason games and should see a ton of time tonight.

In May, the Cowboys hoped Chaz Green would be their swing tackle when they took him in the third round but he will miss the first six games of the season on the physically unable to perform list due to offseason hip surgery.

That has allowed Weems the chance to win the job. He started slowly vs. San Diego but has played better. The Cowboys will have a decision to make if they want to go with Weems’ inexperience behind Tyron Smith and Doug Free or opt for another potential inexperienced tackle who comes off another team’s roster.

The safer bet would seem to be Weems, especially with a good showing tonight.

Ben Gardner, Lavar Edwards

Gardner had a strong spring and a solid start to training camp. He even had a sack against the San Francisco 49ers. Gardner and Edwards could be fighting for the final defensive end spot and could benefit from the four-game suspension looming for Greg Hardy.

Gardner has some special teams ability, which helps his cause. Edwards has the more prototypical size and more experience.

Without Hardy, the Cowboys have DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincey and Randy Gregory as their top defensive ends. Fifth-round pick Ryan Russell has showed enough promise. If the Cowboys want to go heavy at defensive end, then it’s up to Gardner or Edwards to force their hands.

A.J. Jenkins

There was a thought Jenkins would be among the first receivers cut in camp, but he has shown up much more in the final 10 days of camp. He was unable to make his mark working with the first-team offense last week against the Minnesota Vikings, but it’s not like the Cowboys are loaded at the receiver spot after Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley.

Devin Street and Lucky Whitehead appear to have the fourth and fifth spots sewn up but carrying a sixth receiver is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, that sixth receiver could be on another team, which Jones alluded to.

Jasper Brinkley

The veteran is guaranteed $2 million whether he makes the final roster or not. The Cowboys paid him a $1.25 million signing bonus in the offseason and $750,000 of his base salary also is guaranteed. On price alone, it would appear Brinkley is safe.

Plus, the Cowboys don’t have a thumper-type at middle linebacker with Rolando McClain missing the first four games due to a suspension.

But Brinkley has seen Kyle Wilber and Andrew Gachkar start at middle linebacker in the base defense the last two weeks. He is the traditional two-down linebacker, so he does not bring much to the passing game or special teams.

Can the Cowboys afford to keep him without much of a role? Can they afford to pay him $2 million to not be on the team?