Jerry Jones: Taco Charlton will be on the Cowboys' roster in 2019, ankle is 'good' for Week 1

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Taco Charlton will get another shot at impressing the Dallas Cowboys.

Although unavailable for the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thanks to an ankle injury that ended his dress rehearsal one week prior, the former first-round pick punctuated a solid camp with a gritty -- and stellar -- performance in Week 3 of the preseason against the Houston Texans that raised more than a few eyebrows. He delivered two sacks (three, if one wasn't negated by a penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis), one pass break up, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, which included one of those forced fumbles coming after a return to the game from a previous injury evaluation.

There was still the obvious question of if Charlton had done enough to avoid being released or traded by the team ahead of final roster cuts, but that has now been answered definitively by owner Jerry Jones. Speaking with 105.3 the Fan on Friday, Jones affirmed Charlton will definitely be on the team's final roster in 2019.

"Yes," he said simply, when posed the question. "He's frankly had a great camp."

This gives Charlton a lane to finally prove he was worthy of being a first-round pick in 2017, and it's one that got off to a good start last season before falling off the rails entirely. 

Charlton was locked in heading into training camp in 2018, shadowing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence with the goal of making huge strides in his second year as an NFL pass rusher. The club loved what they saw, and rewarded him with 106 defensive snaps in the first two games of 2018, wherein he delivered six combined tackles (two for a loss), a pass break up and a sack on quarterback Eli Manning in Week 2. In that same contest, he'd recover a fumble in the third quarter that the Cowboys used to make it a two-touchdown deficit, going on to win and balance themselves at 1-1 on the young season.

As the season progressed, however, Charlton regressed -- with part of the reason being an injured shoulder.

He'd go on to miss several games because of it, then joined Lawrence and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods in going under the knife for offseason surgery. He underwent his first procedure on Jan. 24 to fully repair his shoulder, giving him ample time to recover and be ready for the offseason program. The injury wasn't the only thing reportedly holding him back though, with rumors of his attitude being the reason he was made inactive once he was healthy enough to play.

The Cowboys relegated him to the inactives list on more than one occasion before placing him back in the rotation to close out 2018, and although head coach Jason Garrett framed the decision as injury-related, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli carried a much more exasperated tone when discussing the situation. At this point, there's no denying attitude played a part in setting him back, but Charlton himself made it all the more confusing when he took to Twitter to proclaim he had a "perfectly fine shoulder" and that "nothing is wrong" following his short rehab stint.

Neither of those statements were true.

Clearly there was something going on behind the scenes and, just as obviously, he was actually not perfectly fine -- hence the need for surgery in January. Charlton then needed arthroscopic surgery on his ankle in May, and it cost him all of OTAs and mandatory minicamp. The good news for him is he was out of his walking boot and back on the field for most of camp, but the bad news came by way of the depth of talent across the Cowboys' defensive line. 

Vice president of player personnel and resident talent guru Will McClay has hope for Charlton but made it painfully clear he's not going to babysit him, or anyone else on the roster.

"I'm expecting Taco to strap on his pads, put on his helmet and go out there and compete every day to prove that he belongs on this roster," McClay told 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas in late April. "The injury and all those things -- he's going to have to overcome that and be available. I expect Taco to put his best foot forward and battle and compete for a spot, but you know what? We're not going to hold the train for anybody.

"If you want to compete and roll with us, here it is. Everybody is going to have that opportunity. I expect Taco to be a much better player and a much more productive player. He was turning the corner last year.

"Injuries happen, and all that other stuff. I expect him to go and battle and compete. If him or anybody else isn't willing to compete, hopefully we have enough stuff there to keep us strong throughout the process."

Now heading into the pivotal third year of his contract, one with a fifth-year option, Charlton is expected to have a breakout season of some sort; especially considering All-Pro defensive end Robert Quinn will be suspended the first two games. That gives Charlton a chance at getting more snaps, but he'll have to earn them when considering how strong newly-acquired pass rusher Kerry Hyder has also looked in camp and in the preseason. It bodes well for Charlton that -- anomalies named T.J. Watt aside -- most NFL pass rushers don't break out until Year 3, but he'll have to continue proving he's matured and that the recent rash of injuries are not a sign of things to come.

Charlton exited the Cowboys' locker room following the team's finale against the Bucs without a walking boot, crutches or a noticeable limp, and told me his ankle is "good" -- essentially putting him on track to return to practice ahead of the season opener. There were recent trade rumors surrounding Charlton as well, but Jones and the Cowboys aren't ready to part ways just yet.

It is crunch time for Taco, though, especially if he wants some extra cheese in the near future.

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