The Dallas Cowboys are openly on the hunt for a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time since drafting quarterback Troy Aikman No. 1 overall in 1989.
But vice president Stephen Jones acknowledges the suspension of Randy Gregory and the disappointment surrounding Greg Hardy on and off the field last year have made defensive end their greatest position of need.
Jones said no decision has been made on whether the team will try to re-sign Hardy in free agency.
He said the Cowboys expected more than six sacks after signing him to a 1-year, $11.3 million deal. They also remain disappointed with the issues he had with tardiness and statements he made in the media and on social media that prompted several talks with coach Jason Garrett.
You hope to have a lot of production when a guy is making that kind of money. Did we hope to have better? Probably we did.
Stephen Jones on Greg Hardy and his $11.3 million contract
“All those things, that falls into the full body of work,” Jones said. “When we evaluate it and finally make a final decision, all that will be measured and obviously all the things you just mentioned were issues at one time or another.
“You hope to have a lot of production when a guy is making that kind of money. Did we hope to have better? Probably we did.”
The Hardy situation was already a factor in making defensive end a position of need going into the draft and free agency. And that was before Gregory was suspended by the league for the first four games of 2016 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
That made the situation at defensive end even more acute for the Cowboys, who have only DeMarcus Lawrence and the unproven Ryan Russell under contract for next year.
The really good football teams tend to get pressure on the quarterbacks, so it continues to be a goal of ours.
Lawrence, who led the team with eight sacks last season, is coming off back surgery and might not be ready until training camp.
“It’s at the top of the list,” Jones said. “The really good football teams tend to get pressure on the quarterbacks, so it continues to be a goal of ours. We hadn’t necessarily been great at it the last couple of years, and we’ve got to continue to figure out a way to improve upon that.”
In addition to Hardy, the Cowboys have their own free agents to consider in Jack Crawford and Jeremy Mincey.
There is a chance they could move Lawrence to right end, but it doesn’t change the need to address the position and find a dominant pass rusher.
“I think it puts a little more pressure, to be candid with you, when you know you’re going to open up without a guy you felt good about,” Jones said. “I do think we have some good players at that position, but we don’t have the dominant right end that we’ve been fortunate enough to have before whether it be DeMarcus Ware, whether it be [Charles] Haley.”
The Cowboys thought they found a good one in Gregory, a first-round talent who they got in the second round last year because of a failed drug test at the combine. They thought they had a good read on the situation for him to be successful in Dallas because of the support system they provided.
The risk-reward is something that it’s kind of a little bit in our DNA. We do have some really good success stories.
Stephen Jones on acquiring players with character issues
But Gregory had a disappointing rookie season, missing four games with a sprained ankle and recording no sacks. During that time, he failed four drug tests, leading to the four-game suspension.
And now he is one more failed drug test away from a 10-game suspension.
“As disappointing as it is, these things sometimes take time,” Jones said. “We still have a lot of confidence that he’ll get through it. We’ve still got the infrastructure in place, he’s just got to be more diligent, which I think he is. Hopefully he’ll do better as we move forward, but at the same time, we’re not going to have him for four games and there’s risk that four could become more.”
Will the experiences with Gregory and Hardy cause the Cowboys to stop taking chances with players with character risks?
“The risk-reward is something that it’s kind of a little bit in our DNA. We do have some really good success stories,” Jones said. “The answer to that is no. It won’t keep us from looking at something again in the future.”
Dez Bryant remains in a boot, but the Cowboys receiver got a “great report” from his surgeon during a checkup last week.
“He had a very positive appointment late last week,” Stephen Jones said. “Things are good.”
Jones expects Bryant for most of the team’s off-season program, which begins in April.
Bryant underwent a second bone graft on his right foot on Jan. 6 at the Hospital for Special Surgeries in New York. Dr. Marin O’Malley also removed a bone spur from Bryant’s right ankle.
O’Malley gave Bryant a favorable report last week, according to Jones.
Tony Romo has not decided whether to have surgery on his left collarbone, which he has fractured three times in his career.
“That’s up to Tony,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday.
At the Super Bowl earlier this month, Romo said he would make a decision by early March whether to have surgery. He could have a plate surgically inserted to reinforce the collarbone, or more likely, a Mumford procedure to shave the lateral end of the clavicle.
The recovery time from either surgery is 6-8 weeks, putting him back for organized team activities in May.
Romo, who turns 36 in April, played only two full games last season. He broke his collarbone in two others during a 10-week span.
Romo also fractured his left collarbone in 2010.
Charean Williams contributed to this report.
Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr