- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHOENIX -- Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team is continuing its discussions with quarterback Tony Romo on a contract extension and that he believes they will eventually reach an agreement. Jones acknowledged it would be nice to reduce Romo's very high 2013 salary-cap cost, but he did not indicate any particular deadline or hurry for reaching a deal.
"There's never really a start or stop time with Tony," Jones said in the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore. "I do think it will get done."
The Cowboys would like to lock up Romo long-term before his contract expires at the end of the 2013 season. Reducing this year's cap cost by spreading out signing-bonus money from a new deal over future years would be one benefit of that, but that's not the sole motivation. The Cowboys like and believe in Romo as their starting quarterback and want him around for a long time. Asked which was a higher priority, Romo's new deal or a new long-term deal for defensive end Anthony Spencer, Jones didn't hesitate.
"Tony's," he said. "Quarterbacks take precedence."
Jones didn't make much of the extent to which the team's salary-cap concerns have limited its ability to maneuver this offseason -- even as he revealed that the team had re-signed linebacker Ernie Sims to a veteran minimum deal and was down to "five figures'" worth of cap space.
"We were never going to be big players in free agency this year," Jones said. "We played there last year, and we felt like we did some good things, and we've got to see what the end results are. A big focus for us is on this draft. We need to draft well."
They do, indeed. Jones said he thinks that offensive linemen such as Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free will play better in 2013 than they did in '12. And he said the team thinks it has its two starting safeties already on on the roster, citing Barry Church and Matt Johnson. He acknowledged that the Cowboys can't count on Johnson, who was a midround pick last year and missed the whole season due to injuries, and he said he wouldn't be surprised if they added a veteran safety. But the draft is the Cowboys' only significant means of filling the holes on their roster right now, and they need to find 2013 starters in the early rounds. Especially on the offensive line.
In terms of line specifics, Jones said no decision has been made on Free, who would save the team $7 million in salary-cap space as of June 1 if cut.
"I think he improved last year," Jones said of the Cowboys right tackle. "Obviously, toward the end of the year, when the competition got going there, he played some of his best games."
I still think they'll upgrade at tackle, but since they don't know for sure whether they'll be able to do that with their first-round pick -- and since they can't get the savings until June anyway -- it makes sense for the Cowboys to hold on to Free for now and delay their decision until they know who his replacement will be.