MOBILE, Ala. – The Cowboys used their top pick on an offensive lineman two of the last three years, but that's not a trend that's likely to continue with this upcoming draft.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's pleased with the progress of tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick, two former first-round picks who've revamped the offensive line, but the Cowboys won't likely be burning a top pick on an offensive lineman or a quarterback this year.
"I'm glad we used those two," Jones said. "I don't know that I've got confidence in using any more. If you use your resources one place, you don't have them to go another place."
It would make sense if that other place Jones is referring to is the defense, after the Cowboys finished last in the league on that side of the ball during the 2013 season following a string of injuries. Jones appears content to pass on the plethora of quarterback options likely to go in the early rounds of this year's draft, despite the 33-year-old Tony Romo coming off offseason back surgery.
"You don't anticipate drafting a quarterback high with where we are with Romo, especially one that can play immediately," Jones said. "Several of these guys in today's NFL are playing pretty quick, (Russell) Wilson and (Colin) Kaepernick and those guys that are the move around types. Some of the ones that take a little more seasoning are more your traditional quarterbacks."
Jones said he's not sure when exactly Romo will be in playing condition and ready to practice, but there's no concern on his part that he'll be ready to go for next season. He said he talked to his franchise quarterback Sunday and Romo's doing well and feeling well.
-Rowan Kavner* *
The draft becomes increasingly more important when considering the Cowboys' cap situation.
Jones said the Cowboys always want to draft as well as possible regardless of the salaries on the team, but he admits the cap challenges that have limited the team's possibilities in free agency the last few years will continue for the foreseeable future.
"I don't ever see a time when we, the Cowboys, won't be under some serious challenges on the salary cap," Jones said. "I think that'll always be there for us, because we're that aggressive with our dollars."
The Cowboys have gone the route of restructuring in recent seasons to get under the cap for the start of the year. They'll have to get creative again with restructures, salary cuts and releases to get under again before the start of the 2014 season, though Jones said those discussions have not yet taken place.
-Rowan Kavner* *
Any number of players stand out among the disappointments of the Cowboys' 2013 season, but Jones fielded questions about Bruce Carter specifically. Carter was expected to become a key piece of the switch to the 4-3 defense, but he didn't live up to that billing as a second-year starter.
"He's working at it. We saw things. There's an old adage: 'If you see them do it a few times, then you know they can do it at least.' Then you build from there," Jones said. "Well, we know he can do what this defense calls for and be outstanding. We've got some real reasons to be excited about him."
On one hand, Carter showed plenty of that athleticism in finishing third on the team with 114 tackles. But he routinely struggled in pass coverage, with notable gaffes against San Diego, New Orleans and Chicago.
The 2014 season will be the final year of the linebacker's rookie deal, but Jerry said Carter still has a future in Dallas as he continues to mature.
"He'd be the first to say he had some things he'd like to take back, but overall he's got a future here," Jones said. "He's going to become more of a pro, more understanding of the kind of commitment and detailed preparation it takes, and he'll be a lot better for it. Because he's got the other stuff that nobody can coach – speed and physical assets."
The possible need for a safety in this spring's draft has already become a topic of discussion of the Cowboys' early offseason. Barry Church submitted a season that earned Pro Bowl consideration in his first season as a starter, but the duo of rookies J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath struggled when thrown into the fire.
The Cowboys have been tied to the likes of Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix in the early going of the draft, but Jones didn't seem to share the opinion that the position was a top concern.
"We'll see how that goes … We're in better shape last year, or the last two years, at safety," he said.
Of course, Church is the logical starter at one of the two spots. But there will undoubtedly be some competition between Wilcox and Heath in their second seasons. Jones was also sure to mention 2012 draft pick Matt Johnson, who has impressed the coaching staff despite spending his first two seasons on injured reserve. [embedded_ad]
"We're pretty pleased, obviously, with the way Church has developed, and we think with Heath and Wilcox – certainly with Johnson we haven't seen it yet and we don't know that we will see it – but we did see some pretty instinctive things early on," he said.
- Jones said the staff is close to being set and "may be set." He didn't go into detail about whether or not Bill Callahan would still be the play-caller, but he said he liked what Callahan did last year.
"As far as the nuances of what we do with the staff and what have you, we will not be discussing at all right now, but I feel like with the staff we've got we could play Philadelphia," Jones said.
- Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia received multiple head coaching interviews this offseason, which Jones said is a compliment to the job Bisaccia did last season. The owner said the Cowboys aggressively pursued Bisaccia and the move paid off.
- Jones wouldn't speculate on whether or not Jason Hatcher would be too expensive to keep. The Cowboys chose not to select a defensive lineman in the 2013 draft, which turned out to be a costly decision after Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford and Jay Ratliff, among others, weren't available all year.
"You can feel good about where you are as a team at a position and very quickly get in a pretty compromised spot relative to injury," Jones said. "Injury does that, but injury's there for everybody and impacted everybody this year. Most clubs that I saw did a good job of handling injury and compensating for it. I thought we did a good job. But it was, relative to what we have to have in this scheme, in this first-year scheme, we really needed a lot of pressure from that front seven and front four, and we were compromised."