INDIANAPOLIS -- Early in an interview with owner Jerry Jones on Friday, Roosevelt Riley, Jones' personal bodyguard, brought him a drink.
Jones then quipped, "It has Jack Daniels in it, right?"
It was a joke. The cup was only filled with soda.
But it made you wonder after listening to Jones talk for roughly 90 minutes inside the luxurious Cowboys bus, parked on the curb outside the Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.
The highlights of Jones' annual state of the union at the NFL's Scouting Combine included him saying:
The Cowboys have the talent to compete for a Super Bowl.
The biggest difference going into next year will be the coaching staff, which he said is better than the one on the playoff team in 2009.
One of the biggest failures for the team the past two years when they went 6-10 and 8-8, respectively, was the play of the offensive line, resting on the players and former coach Hudson Houck. Jones saidthe freshness of new line coach Bill Callahan will be a big benefit.
His biggest disappointment in not making a Super Bowl run in the past 16 years was that some of the prime years of quarterback Tony Romo's career have been wasted.
Jones said Romo is one of the team's best assets and he would not trade him to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Baylor's Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.
"It's been disappointing to not have been in a Super Bowl in these key years in Romo's career," Jones said. "We have talent. We ought to be knocking on the door. That is very frustrating. That's where I am committed with every ounce of energy and with the financial resources I have."
Jones qualified his comments about his team, saying he "didn't think the Cowboys had the talent to win 13 games like the Green Bay Packers did to begin last year."
But he believes the Cowboys can win nine games and get in the playoffs and compete for a title as the Super Bowl champion New York Giants did.
He is not predicting a Super Bowl title.
He believes they have the talent to make a playoff run. He felt that way last season and feels that way going into the 2012 season. The Cowboys get the benefit of a full off-season, which they didn't have last year, under coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the addition of talent through the draft and free agency.
"I see the talent level as being able to put us in a competitive situation for the Super Bowl," Jones said. "I'm not saying we don't have room to have better talent. I think between free agency and the draft we are going to have talent to compete."
The Cowboys have $12.6 million in cap room and decisions to make on some of their free agents, including linebacker Anthony Spencer and receiver Laurent Robinson. Jones said the Cowboys will make some changes, pointing to a looming decision on cornerback Terence Newman, who could be a salary-cap release, and said they will be active in free agency.
Jones is also adamant that the team has the talent on the current roster to compete for a Super Bowl and doesn't see a must-need position or one that "is terminal for us" to compete.
Jones is expecting better coaching next season. He said this staff is set up to have more success than the group under Wade Phillips in 2009 that won the team's first and only playoff game in 16 years.
"We will have better coaching," Jones said. "That is going to be significant."
In addition to defense, where improvement is expected under Ryan, Jones believes the Cowboys benefit significantly from the change on the offense line. Callahan replaced Houck, a respected veteran who directed the lines on the Cowboys' 1992 and 1995 Super Bowl title teams.
Jones said the problems up front contributed to the Cowboys being mediocre the past two years. In 2010, it was because Jones stayed with aging veterans too long. In 2011, it was because Jones went with too many young players.
"That helped create ambiguity for our quarterback, awareness to either have guys come free or someone up there get beat," Jones said. "When a quarterback has that on his mind, he makes adjustments subconsciously and consciously."
Jones takes the blame for the offensive-line decisions. He also believes the Cowboys went in the right direction last year, even though it hurt them in the short term.
"Callahan is not only someone who is going to make good contributions to the offense, but he is also a heck of an offensive line coach," Jones said. "We will be benefit from the freshness he brings and I was the No. 1 Hudson Houck fan in the building."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.