Executive vice president Stephen Jones understands the frustration with the lack of free-agent moves by the Dallas Cowboys after last year’s 4-12 campaign.
But he is not worried, and he says Cowboys fans shouldn’t be either.
Jones said the Cowboys are focused on bettering their team for a bounce-back run next season and aren’t solely relying on the return to health of quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and cornerback Orlando Scandrick, whose injuries were huge part of their problems last season.
Jones, attending the owners meeting in Florida with owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett, said the Cowboys will use the upcoming NFL Draft as the foundation of their improvement, not free agency.
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“I think we have been on record as saying I don’t think that’s where you build a football team, in free agency,” Jones said. “At the same time, we are certainly not sticking our head in the sand just because we had significant injuries with Tony and Dez and Orlando and think just because they are healthy and we are going to be fine.
“You build your team in the draft. So we’ve got to draft well.”
Free agent running back Alfred Morris and cornerback Patrick Robinson visited Valley Ranch on Monday. The Cowboys are also waiting to see if the Oakland Raiders are going to match the offer sheet they signed with defensive end Benson Mayowa.
Regardless of how those situations play out, Stephen Jones said it won’t change the team’s approach to the draft.
Even at the running back position.
The NFL Draft is April 30-May 1 in Chicago. The Cowboys have nine picks, including the fourth overall selection.
Stephen Jones indicated the team will still target a running back at some point in the draft.
“You just always want to have options,” Jones said. “Get somebody in the draft. It takes more than one running back to get through a season most of the time. Very rarely do you pull out a season like DeMarco Murray had two years ago.”
Starter Darren McFadden will be back. The Cowboys signed Lance Dunbar to a one-year deal last week, but there is a chance he could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. He is still rehabbing from major knee surgery in October after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
“Some of these guys work extremely hard, which Lance is one those guys,” Jones said. “He is special. Sometimes they get back sooner.”
He believes the Cowboys have drafted well and have decisions to make on long-term extensions for center Travis Frederick, guard Zack Martin and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence among others.
He would rather have money to keep those players as long-term foundational pieces rather than go after high-priced free agents.
“We know we have to keep DeMarcus Lawrence. We have to keep Zack Martin,” Jones said. “If we go out and pay guys more, then we can’t pay those guys. And that’s who you really want to pay.”
The Cowboys already have one such decision to make with Frederick as they have until May 3 to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract for 2017, worth $6.87 million.
The Cowboys won’t make anything official until the NFL releases the full preseason schedule, but they do have some tentative dates set for training camp and their preseason opener.
Per a source, the Cowboys plan to report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., on July 28 with their first practice set for July 29. The first preseason game is usually 15 days after the start of camp and they are expected to open at the newly transferred Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 13.
The Cowboys will break camp Aug. 19 for the second preseason game and home opener at AT&T Stadium on Aug. 20.
They will then resume training camp at The Star in Frisco, site of their new headquarters and training facilities. Fans will be allowed to attend camp at the Star.
The Cowboys will be on the road for the third preseason game and host the Houston Texans in the preseason finale.