Asked the biggest disappointment from last season, Stephen Jones didn’t hesitate in saying the Dallas Cowboys’ 4-12 record.
“You are what you are,” the organization’s executive vice president said. “We have the fourth pick in the draft for a reason. We weren’t able to win football games.”
There is an underlying reason for the season gone wrong, too, when Jones and the rest of the Cowboys’ brass dissect it — the backup quarterback position.
Tony Romo fractured his left collarbone twice during the season, and three backup quarterbacks combined to go 1-11. That is the most glaring hole they must address this off-season, more than the lack of turnovers or lackluster pass rush.
“The thing we still keep going back to is, we’ve got to have a better solution and a better answer if something happens to Tony that’ll give us a chance to win football games and be more competitive than we were,” Jones said. “You look at what’s in the playoffs and who’s in the final four and who was in the final eight, you don’t see a lot of people in there with their backup quarterbacks in there really making significant differences in the playoffs.
“But what I do think we should be able to do is play better football than we played this year.”
Nobody is arguing that, and it’s why Romo’s health and the team exploring possible options to be his successor remain hot topics early on this off-season.
And that’s why Jones and coach Jason Garrett were peppered with countless Romo and future quarterback questions Tuesday at the Senior Bowl.
Jones and Garrett are optimistic Romo will come back better than ever, even if he undergoes surgery to have a plate inserted to strengthen his left collarbone.
A final decision on the surgery has yet to be made, but Jones said: “I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent, but it’s leaning hard that way. But we’ve still got some scans to look at and we still have to do what’s in his best interest.”
Romo turns 36 in April, and there is still belief that he can lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Three of the four quarterback who started in last weekend’s championship games, after all, were 36 or older — Arizona’s Carson Palmer (36), New England’s Tom Brady (38) and Denver’s Peyton Manning (39).
The Cowboys face a difficult decision whether to draft a developmental player in the first round such as a quarterback or try and add a “win-now” piece.
As last season showed, it’s difficult for them to expect Romo to be healthy an entire season at this point of his career, with a surgically repaired back and a balky left collarbone.
That’s why there are plenty of projections having the Cowboys taking a quarterback with the fourth overall pick, and some thought that North Dakota State product Carson Wentz could wow them enough this week to be that selection.
Wentz has had an interesting road to the Senior Bowl, going through a crazy growth spurt in high school to becoming arguably the best FCS quarterback in recent years. Wentz started high school as a 5-foot-8, 125-pound freshman and left as a 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior.
Wentz had an impressive first day, too, a showing that Jones called “outstanding.”
Wentz is hopeful to make a strong impression and understands the opportunity he has in working with the Cowboys’ coaching staff.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen teams fall in love with players at any point in the draft process. I can show not just my physical abilities, but the mental side of my game to the Cowboys’ staff.”
Maybe the Cowboys’ will fall in love with Wentz, or another prospect during the draft process. But one thing is clear — the Cowboys know they must address the quarterback situation at some point in the off-season whether it be through the draft or free agency.
“We want to get the pick right. We want to get the guy right,” Jones said. “He’s got to understand what’s going to happen. To learn and study under a guy like Tony Romo is a big positive.
“I think everybody agrees, if the right guy is there then you got to take a long, hard look at it. That’s why we’re sitting here today.”