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Phillips: Evaluating Many Potential Draft Needs Beyond Backup Quarterback

IRVING, Texas – Now is the time for self-reflection after 4-12.

What happened this season? Well, the Cowboys were 3-1 with Tony Romo; 1-11 without him.

Simple, right?

Undoubtedly, his two collarbone injuries were defining setbacks in the team's worst finish in 26 years. To call it a poor excuse for 4-12 is, well, ridiculous. Six of those 11 losses without Romo came by 27 total points. Think he might have gotten four extra touchdowns in six games?

Yet, to say it's the single reason for 4-12 is a mistake, too.

The proof comes as we commence three and a half straight months of NFL Draft talk. Or, as I like to call it, KMMB season: Kiper, McShay, Mayock, and our man Broaddus.

Backup quarterback is, Jerry Jones acknowledges, a high offseason priority as insurance for a Romo injury in 2016 and beyond. If Romo would've been healthy in 2015, they would've been better. Arguably much better. If the offense had gotten more production from his three injury replacements in 2015, they would've been more competitive. Arguably much more competitive.

But would all be well with the roster?

If that were the case, backup quarterback should be our only discussion point from now through April.

There would be no need to discuss the cornerback position, where Morris Claiborne has an expiring contract and Byron Jones might move to free safety full time.

Or defensive line, where Nick Hayden, Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey have expiring contracts.

Or running back, where it might make sense to pair a draft pick with 1,089-yard starter Darren McFadden.

Or linebacker, where Rolando McClain has an expiring contract.

Or receiver, where another vertical threat could pressure defenses even with Dez Bryant returning healthy next year.

Or even the depth on this Pro Bowl offensive line, where Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau have expiring contracts.

See, I still believe this is potentially a very good football team when everyone's healthy. In today's salary-cap driven league, virtually all teams are competitive to very good to borderline great when everyone's healthy.

Yet, the above-mentioned positions must be addressed in some form this offseason. The Cowboys could use additional playmakers on offense, where they averaged 15 points a game without Romo in the lineup; and on defense, where they set a franchise record and tied an NFL record for fewest takeaways (11). The defense also will look to improve on this year's 31 sacks, tied for the league's sixth-fewest total.

It's a team game – the ultimate team game. If Romo were the only difference maker, he and the Cowboys would never have endured three straight 8-8 seasons before breaking through in 2014.

Even last spring, coming off their 12-4 season and second-round appearance, which roster parts needed tweaks? Well, they needed a new starting running back; a new swing tackle; more depth in the secondary and at linebacker; and based on their difficulties pressuring Aaron Rodgers in the divisional playoff loss at Lambeau, more pass rushers. Can never have enough pass rushers.

One of the most "unbelievable" aspects of this disappointing year, Jerry Jones said last week on 105.3 The Fan, was he felt their talent acquisition last offseason ranked among their best in years. And yet, the results weren't there at the end.

It's impossible to ignore the injuries this team endured, most notably Romo missing roughly 75 percent of the season. It's also short-sighted to place 100 percent of the blame on the backup quarterback position.

The Cowboys aren't doing that. Which makes this offseason a critical step toward building more around him before he enters his age-36 season.

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