IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have missed the playoffs the last three seasons. But that doesn't mean confidence isn't high around Valley Ranch.
Stephen Jones, the Cowboys' vice president and director of player personnel, told reporters Thursday this team isn't far off from the ultimate goal, despite two straight 8-8 seasons.
"We really feel like we have a team that can compete for a championship," Jones said after the Cowboys' wrapped up a three-day minicamp on Thursday. "The last three teams that won championships barely got into the playoffs and did something about it."
Jones is referring to a Ravens team the Cowboys nearly beat earlier in the 2012 season, the 2011 Giants, a squad the Cowboys had on the ropes in an early December game, and the 2010 Packers, who entered the playoffs 10-6 as the sixth seed in the NFC.
Jones said the playing field is so leveled these days that just getting into the playoffs gives teams a legitimate chance to win. Obviously, the Cowboys were on the cusp the last two years, losing to the Giants and Redskins on the final week of the season, with a playoff berth and NFC East title on the line.
"You're probably not being realistic if you don't think things have changed in the last 10 years," Jones said. "There're probably a lot of people who feel they have a chance to win a championship based on the level playing field and how the cap has affected the game. We feel like we have an opportunity to compete for a championship."
Last year, the Cowboys played the second half of the season with as many as six key defensive players either on injured reserve or out for a lengthy period of time because of injuries. Players such as Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Jay Ratliff and Barry Church were sorely missed, along with Orlando Scandrick and Kenyon Coleman. The Cowboys also played the last few games with a less-than-healthy DeMarcus Ware, who had offseason shoulder surgery.
"I feel like the teams that won championships last year, we can compete with them and were right there competing with them maybe without a full deck," Jones said. "We have confidence that this team will win a championship."
To get there, changes have to be made and the Cowboys have had their fair share this offseason, starting with the play-callers.
On defense, Monte Kiffin takes over for Rob Ryan as the Cowboys switch to a 4-3 scheme. Offensively, Bill Callahan is expected to have a greater role in the game plan and could be calling most of the plays. Tony Romo, who signed a long-term contract, is also expected to have a greater voice in the pregame preparations.
Free agency didn't provide a lot of new faces, although the Cowboys made sure to keep Anthony Spencer around, giving him the franchise tag for the second straight year. The changes aren't major, but could be just enough to get this team over the hump. And according to a key member of the front office, major changes aren't exactly needed to get there.