The Dallas Cowboys flew under the radar going into training camp a year ago with minimal outside expectations. They don’t have that luxury this year after making a surprise playoff run.
Now, the Cowboys are being lauded as one of the bigger winners this off-season and a Super Bowl favorite. They landed three first-round-caliber players from this year’s draft class, bolstered their pass rush by signing controversial defensive end Greg Hardy and eliminated a potential training camp distraction by signing Dez Bryant to a five-year extension last week.
“I do believe we’ve put together a team here that’s one of the better ones we’ve had in quite some time,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said as he helped open the new Dallas Cowboys Club Restaurant inside Terminal A at DFW Airport on Tuesday.
“I do believe it’s all coming together for us.”
Despite how good he feels about the team with training camp opening next week in Oxnard, Calif., Jones understands that winning the off-season only does so much. He wasn’t ready to give the Cowboys a passing grade until they actually play games.
“It’s all about the production on the field,” Jones said. “We obviously feel like we got a lot accomplished. Whether we did or not remains to be seen, and it’ll all be in whether we have a successful season. We theoretically got done what we felt like we needed to do to make our team better and take the next step. Now we’ll see if it happens.”
Bryant and his contract situation dominated headlines this off-season, and he and the Cowboys eventually came to a resolution last week just before the deadline.
How close did it get?
“We were down to about 30 minutes,” Jones said. “It’s about as close as it gets, but deadlines do amazing things. It causes everybody to really push.
“I think we made the right decision, no question. Dez is an important part of this team and obviously I think has a chance to be one of the great players to ever play for this franchise, if not the league.”
Bryant and the Cowboys settled on a five-year, $70 million extension that included $45 million guaranteed. Jones wasn’t ready to speculate whether Bryant would have fulfilled his promise to miss regular-season games without a deal, saying: “We didn’t need distractions. It’ll be great to have him.”
Bryant could be monitored early in training camp, though, after sitting out most of the team’s off-season activities.
“He hasn’t had a competitive off-season. We want to make sure we don’t just throw him out to the wolves,” Jones said. “I know he works hard, but there’s nothing like working with your teammates in a competitive environment. It’s a real difference. There’s probably half a dozen guys we’ll manage.”
That group is also surely to include quarterback Tony Romo and linebacker Sean Lee.
Linebacker Rolando McClain could be a candidate to land on the physically unable to perform list going into training camp, Jones acknowledged Tuesday.
McClain underwent knee surgery and wasn’t able to participate in the team’s minicamp last month. He has also since been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy against substance abuse.
McClain, 26, resurrected his career with the Cowboys last season and is expected to be the team’s middle linebacker when healthy and eligible. To fill the void in the meantime, though, the Cowboys will look internally at guys such as fourth-round pick Damien Wilson and veteran Jasper Brinkley.
Lee will not be a candidate to fill McClain’s spot in the middle, as the Cowboys like the idea of Lee staying on the weakside in Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme.
Along with McClain, rookie offensive tackle Chaz Green is another PUP candidate. Jones said it is “more than likely” that Green will end up there after undergoing hip surgery last month.
Jones said anywhere from two to six players could open camp on the PUP list.
▪ Jones doesn’t know whether Hardy will pursue further legal action to try to get his now four-game suspension reduced more, or possibly eliminated. Said Jones: “We don’t play a role in that. At the end of the day, that’s between the NFL Players Association and Greg Hardy and his agent.”
▪ Jones on going into this season with higher expectations than last: “Whether people think we’re going to be good, whether they think we’re going to be .500 or at the bottom, I think our guys are going to be up for the challenge. We’ve got great leadership on this team. I’ve always thought chemistry is a hard thing to find. The winning chemistry.
“Obviously there are 31 other teams who pay their guys pretty similar amounts in terms of the salary cap and it’s just getting your chemistry right. I think last year we found something special. We’ve got to keep that.”
▪ Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who underwent knee surgery last season, is expected to be ready for camp. Said Jones: “He’s really done an amazing job. Had a very good off-season, if not a great off-season. I think he feels better than he’s ever felt and he’s done everything the right way....He really has a chance to have a big year for us.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760