The Dallas Cowboys didn’t give their fans much good news this off-season as Jason Hatcher left in free agency, DeMarcus Ware was cut and Sean Lee tore the ACL in his left knee.
In training camp, second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence broke his right foot, and the NFL suspended starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick four games.
The team’s winless preseason didn’t do anything to improve fans’ outlook for the 2014 season.
Then, there was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the annual Kickoff Luncheon using clichés such as “uphill battle” and “backs against the wall” during his state-of-the-team address.
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Is it doom-and-gloom already for the home team?
“There is a difference being optimistic and assessing the odds,” Jones said after Thursday night’s preseason game. “These guys that we’re going to expect to play have a lot to prove to play at the level we want them to play. ... So it is some real odds here. I had always thought you do some of your best work [when odds are longest].
“You’ve got no-name guys. You’ve got guys out there who are not No. 1 draft picks. You’ve got guys out there who [were] retired. You’ve got guys who are coming back from injury. Man, this is a “to prove” group, ol’ “to prove” Cowboys out here.
“Consequently, that’s big odds. And so if they can get in there and show them and do it quarter by quarter, then that’s the kind of team I hope that we can put on the field. Does everybody understand how we’re thought about by the [analysts]? Unquestionably they do.”
The Cowboys fielded the league’s seventh-youngest roster last season with an average age of 25.58. Their opening-day roster had 13 rookies and first-year players. When the Cowboys finish cutting players to reach the magic 53 by Saturday afternoon, they will likely get even younger.
“I think we’ve brought some really good cornerstone-type players into this organization, and some guys are in their prime now and some guys are entering their prime,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Friday. “There are some young guys who are going to play significant roles for us, and that’s what we’ve been doing over the last couple, three years, and that’s a good formula to have.
“There are some challenges that you go through when you have a younger team. You obviously are not as experienced, so you learn from all of the experiences that you do have and hopefully you grow, and you have the right kind of guys.”
Garrett, though, won’t get a pass from Jones. The coach is in the final year of his contract, with no guarantees from the owner despite the Cowboys’ rebuilding effort.
“I have already decided that we would operate this year with his contract status the way it is,” Jones said.
Garrett, with a record of 29-27 since taking over for Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season, might need to end the team’s four-year playoff drought to retain his job. Oddsmakers aren’t betting on that, giving Dallas less than a 30 percent chance to make the postseason with its Super Bowl odds between 50-1 and 100-1.
The Cowboys certainly hope for more wins in the regular season than they had in the preseason. They went winless for the first time since 2000 and only the fifth time in franchise history.
For what it’s worth, the Cowboys ranked 28thin total offense and 30th in total defense in the preseason. They allowed 633 rushing yards, ranking last in the NFL. Only Kansas City allowed more than the 116 points the Cowboys gave up, and only Pittsburgh scored fewer than the 60 points the Cowboys scored.
Still, Jones said the Cowboys’ defense is “much improved” over last season when they ranked as the third-worst in NFL history.
The Cowboys aren’t waving the white flag before the season starts, no matter the odds.
“We know the challenges ahead in all three phases of our team, and we respect those challenges and we feel good about our team,” Garrett said. “We feel good about the guys we have and the approach we’ve taken to get younger.
“Now we’ve got to give these guys a chance to go play, and hopefully they will grow up quickly and fill some of the roles we’ve talked about and really become a good unit on defense and really throughout our team.”