OXNARD, Calif. – Eight months after a highly disappointing first-round home playoff loss, Jerry Jones believes the Cowboys start this year's training camp in good position to contend – and take another step – once again.
"(Last year) we had it teed up pretty good, and in my mind we made a hell of a run at it," the Cowboys owner/general manager said at Tuesday's camp-opening press conference. "I think we're in better shape today to make a run at it than when we were sitting here this time last year.
"I thought last year we had a chance to make a heck of a run at it and had people in place that if we were healthy enough, we might get 'em. And I think we're in better shape."
Jones is confident despite several significant offseason roster departures, most notably four-time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper's trade to the Cleveland Browns, long-time starting right tackle La'el Collins' release and veteran pass rusher Randy Gregory's decision to sign with the Denver Broncos in free agency.
"Those were totally our decision to make those," Jones said, without specifically naming players.
"We've lost three really high-profile players. Those players were in our top 10 of the players that make the most money. When you get in that spot, I can tell you, your standards go up. Your bar is higher. Your conduct is higher. Your attention to the team is higher, not just your own performance but everything when you have that kind of responsibility, which you do when you have that much of the financial pie. So what I'm trying to say is those decisions were made more about availability than ability."
Collins served a five-game NFL suspension last season and rotated starts with third-year veteran Terence Steele. Cooper missed two starts because of COVID-19 protocols. Gregory missed five games due to injuries and COVID protocols, and the Cowboys stood by him through previous suspensions for violations of the league's substance abuse policy.
"I don't want to demean any one player. I love those players personally," Jones said. "But the No. 1 thing is how we win a football game if you're going to be in the top 10 of paid players in my mind."
After a 12-win season last year, the Cowboys will look to be the first repeat NFC East champion since the Eagles won three straight division titles from 2002-04.
Reasons for Jones' optimism about 2022?
"First of all, this guy sitting right here," he said, nodding to head coach Mike McCarthy.
Jones made clear that McCarthy has his full support, despite outside questions about McCarthy's long-term job security as he enters his third season with the club.
"I want to be real clear: He wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think he was the man to lead this team to a Super Bowl," Jones said.
Jones added, "I like this staff. And frankly, I like the makeup of the players one year later that were on this team last year and I like the new players that we've brought on."
The Cowboys have over $20 million in salary cap space heading into the season. Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones acknowledged their "dry powder" financially – which could be used at some point for veteran help and/or rolled over into 2023 – but emphasized that the club likes the "young foundation" they've built over several drafts.
So what would be a successful season?
"I need to win it," Jerry Jones acknowledged. "But I'll be candid with you: there's degrees. I want to be fair to everybody concerned. We need to be in the playoffs. We need to be viable in the playoffs to have a successful season."