LANDOVER, Md. –First things first, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones began his postgame comments with the disclaimer that he would have nothing to say about the job security of head coach Jason Garrett or his staff.
So, in the wake of a 28-18 loss at the hands of the Washington Redskins that eliminated the Cowboys from playoff contention, there's nothing definitive to report about the club's future, either way. The owner and his lieutenant Stephen Jones have both championed Garrett in recent weeks, however, and Sean Payton, the most talked-about alternative, has agreed to return to the New Orleans Saints.
There are plenty of important choices for the Joneses to make in the coming days and weeks. Following a third straight season to fall short of the playoffs, it's quite possible, maybe likely, that some assistant coaches will not be brought back for 2013. Beyond that, there are important roster decisions to be made, not the least of which involves a possible contract extension for the franchise quarterback. Tony Romo is entering the last season of the six-year pact he signed in 2007.
Other key contributors have expiring deals, most notably outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, a solid if unspectacular player through his first five seasons who had a career year in 2012, playing under the franchise tag. The Cowboys could elect to reserve his rights in that way again, on a more expensive one-year deal, or work out something long term.
Two other former first-round picks appear less likely to be back, running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins. The 2008 selections both fought their way back from offseason shoulder surgery this season, but have lost the starting jobs they once held.
Other marquee players could be let go for cost or performance reasons. Right tackle Doug Free, wide receiver Miles Austin and nose tackle Jay Ratliff all have high-dollar contracts but took backward steps in 2012.
The team's main needs appear to be along the offensive and defensive lines, and perhaps at safety, though offseason moves could create other needs. Because of injuries, the Cowboys also have quite a few midseason acquisitions who played key roles down the stretch, and are set to be unrestricted free agents again, such as linebackers Ernie Sims and Brady Poppinga, and defensive backs Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah.
"You know how these teams work," Jerry Jones said after the 28-18 loss to Washington. "About 30 percent of your team, you have a turnover. So you have to immediately be thinking about what you're going to be doing and how you're going to structure it for the future."
Among the other players slated to be unrestricted free agents are wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, tight end John Phillips, linebacker Victor Butler, defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman, guard Derrick Dockery, punter Brian Moorman and deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur.
"We just have to continue to get better in all phases of our football team, in all phases of our organization," Garrett said. "I thought our guys did a great job of overcoming the different combinations of players we were playing as this year wound down."