Owner Jerry Jones admits the Dallas Cowboys loaded up the past few years to make a run at the Super Bowl.
He acknowledges the decisions they made then have had some negative financial consequences that have caused the Cowboys to take a different financial approach going forward.
But Jones refuses to concede to any talk about the Cowboys being in rebuilding mode — despite three consecutive 8-8 seasons and recent decisions to purge veterans such as DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher from the roster for salary cap reasons.
He says the Cowboys have too much firepower on offense, led by franchise quarterback Tony Romo, to rebuild. That they are just revamping an aged and injury-riddled defensive line. And that it has gone all according to plan.
“You don’t rebuild with Romo,” Jones said during a 35-minute chat at the NFL owners meetings. “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 [offensive play-caller Scott] Linehan in here to rebuild. We’re not rebuilding. We are, by necessity, having to revamp the defensive line.”
The revamping of the defensive line has included the signing of defensive end Jeremy Mincey and defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Henry Melton in free agency.
Those moves were partly influenced by the team’s financial struggles as they began free agency with less than $10 million in cap room.
But they were also driven by a need to get younger and healthier up front. The Cowboys were neither during the past two seasons when they fielded the two worst defenses in team history.
“We think we’re in good shape to compete for the most part on offense,” Jones said. “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 into the playoffs. 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.
“I think we have assured ourselves that we will have a better defense and a better defensive line than we had last year.”
And as much as Jones hated to part ways with Ware, a future candidate for the team’s hallowed Ring of Honor and a possible Hall of Famer, he said the move might have been best for both sides. Ware signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Denver Broncos, including $13 million in 2014. The Cowboys cut him after he refused to take a pay cut from his $12.5 million base salary in 2014.
“At his price tag, which was unavoidable, 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,” Jones said. “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.”
Jones has no regrets about his decisions.
“It’s not a mistake,” Jones said. “We just went 8-8. I loaded up to compete for the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl. I would do it again. The point is there is a time to load up. That was our time.”
So what time is it now?
“We’re loading up to the extent we can,” Jones said. “We’re also doing a good job for our future, the future being the next two, three, four years out.
“Our cap is requiring us to do the things that are good for our future.”
Just don’t call it rebuilding.
Jones says the Cowboys are focused on winning now and have a chance to be better on defense based on what the team did in free agency and what they plan to do in the draft to bolster the defensive line.
“What we’ve done in the off-season is exactly to plan,” Jones said. “We’ll help our defense in the draft — there’s no question about that. We want to compete.”