IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys will look significantly different when they take the field next season, despite possessing just six draft picks and keeping a low profile in free agency.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the prospect of having a healthy defense excites him, no matter how much the Cowboys upgrade in the draft. By the end of last season, Barry Church, Matt Johnson, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Jay Ratliff were all out for the year, while DeMarcus Ware was essentially playing with one arm.
"There're reasons for us to think we can be much better on the defensive side of the ball," Jones said on 105.3 FM The Fan.
He said the Cowboys are already in good shape if the injured players come back strong. In addition to getting healthy, Jones also said the team needs to hit in the draft.
So far, no changes have occurred on the offensive line in free agency. The Cowboys still have to decide what to do with right tackle Doug Free, who struggled last season. One way to answer that would be to sign free agent tackle Eric Winston.
"He's obviously somebody we're taking a look at," Jones said. "We certainly haven't dismissed Doug. We really felt like when we went to rotating him and Jermey Parnell, he really picked up his game in terms of the competition. Not to mention the fact he's got some clarity as to what Bill Callahan was after."
The offensive line's struggle to open up a running game last year meant quarterback Tony Romo had to throw the ball often. That may have contributed to Romo tying a career-high in interceptions last season, but the quarterback still inked a long-term deal locking him up in Dallas for the future.
Jones said the extension won't necessarily stop the Cowboys from selecting a quarterback to develop.
"We did it with Stephen McGee three or four years ago, and that was when Tony was even younger," Jones said. "It certainly wouldn't stop us if we felt like the right guy was there."
Jones and the Cowboys' front office continue to stress the importance of drafting the best player available, rather than drafting for need. Still, he admits it can be difficult not to look at the big board and select the player they feel could fit in easiest.
He said it's human nature to "pump air" in players at certain positions more than others.
"When you have a need, you tend to like a position of need a little more, and you have to watch that," he said. "That can be difficult, but I think you have to fight that."
If Dallas drafted for need, offensive line, safety and defensive line would come to the forefront. The team could grab a safety in the first round to start alongside Church, Johnson or Will Allen, but Jones said he's not sure the Cowboys will go in that direction.
"There's a lot of speculation as to what we might take," Jones said. "You certainly could rationalize why a safety might help you there, but it certainly doesn't mean we'll take one."
Jones also touched on the case of Josh Brent. He said the defensive tackle's focus should be on his personal life and the obstacles ahead of him more than the voluntary offseason workouts that have commenced. Until the NFL makes a ruling on Brent's status, it doesn't sound like the defensive tackle will be taking part in those workouts.