ORLANDO – For the first time since the scouting combine more than a month ago, Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones had a lengthy sit-down interview with members of the media on Tuesday morning.
Taking a break in the action at the NFL league owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Jones discussed a wide range of topics, from the outlook of his 2014 team to the release of DeMarcus Ware, and from the health of Tony Romo and Sean Lee to Jason Garrett's future.
This was Jones' first media briefing since the start of free agency, and based on some of the moves that have seen Ware and Jason Hatcher walk out the door, there has been speculation the Cowboys are hinting at a rebuilding year.
The owner made sure to squash that notion rather quickly.
"Not at all. You don't rebuild with Romo," Jones said. "The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs and our receivers, you don't rebuild with an offense that's got the capability we've got. We didn't bring (Scott) Linehan in here to rebuild."
Jones said that perception stems from the changes on the defensive line, but in no way does it signal a change in his approach to winning this year.
"We're not rebuilding," said Jones. "We are, by necessity, having to revamp the defensive line from where we were at this time last year, not with what we played with last year. But what we've done in the offseason is exactly to plan."
The owner said an improved defense, to go along with the success they've had recently on offense, should make for an improved record as well.
"We think we're in good shape to compete, for the most part, on offense," Jones said. "Can we play better defensively? I think we were ranked last on defense, or next to last according to which criteria you want to use. If we can go 8-8 and be last, if we can move that up to the middle of the pack, we might be able to advance on into the playoffs. The year before that, we had a situation where our defense ranked better, but it's still had the flaws that cause us not to stop the big play."
Here are some other topics Jones discussed Tuesday morning:
On at least four occasions in the near 40-minute interview, Jones said this year's defensive line will "certainly" be better than last year's front-four, despite the losses of both Ware and Hatcher. That's the confidence he has in the addition of Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and getting Tyrone Crawford back from an Achilles injury.
"I think we have assured ourselves that we will have a better defense and a better defensive line than we had last year." Jones said. "It's unacceptable to get in the situation we got in last year, a combination of injuries and the practice of having to evaluate players throughout the year continually. We can remedy that. That, plus more familiarity with our defensive players that we have on our roster now, we'll most assuredly be much better defensively than we were last year."
For the first time since Ware signed with the Broncos, Jones commented on his former defensive end, whom he said will undoubtedly have a place in Canton, Ohio.
"DeMarcus has a unique spot in my experience with the Cowboys in 25 years," Jones said of Ware." Hall of Fame player that has likely a lot of production ahead of him. But at his price tag, which was unavoidable, at his price tag, age and injury concern, and our situation, we can have three front-line players – front line being a starter or significant backup – for what we were paying DeMarcus. That says a lot for DeMarcus, but it also says that we need three more than we needed one. Denver needed one more than they needed three."
Health Reports on Romo, Lee and Dez
- Jones said Romo's back rehab is actually "ahead of where we expected him to be." He said the quarterback has not been cleared for all-out throwing, but has been working back into the motion again.
- Jones said Sean Lee is "good to go" after a recent meeting with his linebacker, who missed games down the stretch with a neck injury.
- And the owner couldn't have been more emphatic when asked about Dez Bryant's nagging back issues. "No, no, no. It's just not. That's the best way I can say it. It has no impact on what we do in the future, and how we are counting on him." [embedded_ad]
D-Line in the Draft
Usually, the Cowboys keep it pretty vague when it comes to draft plans. And while they've said once again they have the flexibility to take the best-available player, Jones was asked about selecting a defensive lineman in the draft.
"Yes, and we will."
That's probably easier to say about most positions now that the Cowboys own 11 draft picks, after getting three compensatory picks in the seventh round, where they now have six.
Jones acknowledged the Cowboys will try to re-sign both left tackle Tyron Smith and receiver Dez Bryant at some point before their contracts expire after the 2014 season. The Cowboys have to decide by May 6 to pick up the club option for a fifth year on Smith's deal. If so, then he won't be up until after the 2015 season.
Jones admitted he has traded contract numbers with the agent of one of those players, but didn't sound as if the club was in a major rush to extend either one. Still, he certainly didn't dismiss the notion.
"We have plenty of time to go through that," he added.