Dallas Cowboys: 2014 NFL owners meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While the Dallas Cowboys project quarterback Tony Romo and defensive tackle Henry Melton will be ready for Week 1 of the 2014 season, their availability for the offseason program, starting April 21 is in question.

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Romo, according to owner/general manager Jerry Jones, is ahead of schedule from his recovery from back surgery. Jones said Romo has done some throwing motions but stopped short of saying he was throwing passes to receivers.

There are no guarantees Romo will be throwing passes during the spring OTAs and minicamps.

"We feel like he’s right on schedule and hopefully will be ready to go once we get out on the field in the spring," coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings. "He’s moving around. He hasn’t been out on the field or anything like that yet. By all accounts he’s doing well."

Melton is recovering from a torn ACL, suffered in the third game of the 2013 season. Medical officials told Melton he should be ready for training camp but in terms of working out with the team this spring, like Romo, that's uncertain.

"Like all of the injured players he’s just going through his rehab process, right now," Garrett said. "He had the surgery, I believe in October. We feel like it’s a reasonable timetable to see him at some point this spring or training camp. He’s responded well to the surgery."

There is some good news regrading injuries. Middle linebacker Sean Lee, who missed the final stages of the 2013 season with a torn ligament in his neck, has been cleared to work out and should be fine for the spring sessions.

Cowboys want to get younger

March, 26, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- On the last day of the NFL owners meetings, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talked about his team becoming younger. While it's good to have experience, Garrett said the league has always been geared for the younger talent.

When asked if the Cowboys would seek a veteran receiver, Garrett said Dez Bryant was a veteran and he even mentioned Terrance Williams, entering his second season, as a Day 1 starter for 2014.

Garrett didn't know the average age of the roster, mainly because it's still being finalized, but not re-signing 30 something defensive linemen DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, along with backup linebacker Ernie Sims, is a statement onto itself.

"You always want to infuse your team with young talent," Garrett said Wednesday morning. "You’re always trying to build your team for now and for going forward. You don’t want to build your team with guys based on what they’ve done in the past. It’s based on what they can do now for your team and what they can do going forward for your team. That’s not a commentary on anyone we’ve let go. We feel like DeMarcus Ware has a lot of good football left in him. We feel like Jason Hatcher has a lot of good football left in him. Those are the two marquee guys we’re talking about. But we had to make an organizational decision in a salary-cap era, given our salary–cap circumstances. Again, we felt like these are the best moves for our team now and moving forward."

When the 2014 starts, the Cowboys will have 20-something-year old players at skill positions such as cornerback, left tackle, wide receiver, running back, defensive tackle, strong safety and middle linebacker.

"You’re always trying to upgrade your football team and looking at the landscape as to how you can do that," Garrett said. "We’re getting into draft time right now. That’s certainly one way. We’re still in free agency. You’re always looking at the landscape at who’s available and who can help you. We’ll do that at that position just like any other position."

Jerry Jones talks about 11 draft picks

March, 26, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Late Monday afternoon, the Cowboys were awarded three compensatory draft picks, increasing their total to 11.

Jerry Jones, the team owner/general manager, who makes the final call on all selections, loves having picks and trading them.

Will he use them all?

“I've always wanted the draft picks,” Jones said. “I will never forget when we traded Herschel Walker (in 1989). I didn’t have one. I bet I had six NFL owners either call me or write me a note saying, ‘Do you realize how much you have increased your investment in this team? You are now paying two teams' drafts.’ At that time, that was very significant cause you didn’t have free agency. The big money was the draft.”

The Cowboys have signed three defensive players in free agency and agreed to a deal for a fullback but it wasn’t finalized.

Jones said the team could also draft a defensive player in the first round. But the free-agency signings, Jones said allows the team to pick the best player available regardless of position.

Jones likes to make trades; his most famous one is trading Walker to Minnesota in a blockbuster deal involving five players and eight draft picks.

“So we literally for three years doubled our investment in players at that time,” Jones said in talking about the Walker trade. “And, by the way, my pockets were pretty empty because I had just bought the club [for a then-NFL record $140 million]. It was a strain. It was always something I looked at. I looked at it then and look at now was an opportunity to win and be better.”

Cowboys revamp the defensive line

March, 26, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jerry Jones doesn't believe his team is rebuilding. It's a word not in his vocabulary because of quarterback Tony Romo, whom Jones says is still in his prime.

While Jones' team isn't in a rebuilding mode overall, massive changes took place with the defensive line.

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Jones said the line needed to be revamped this offseason after drastic changes occurred during the 2013 season.

Projected starters Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware will play for somebody else next season. Anthony Spencer, another projected starter, is unsigned and recovering from microfracture surgery.

“We didn't have those guys like we had them on paper before the season started,” Jones said. “We had injuries, had our issues with Ratliff, Ware was compromised by injury and we lost Spencer, (Tyrone) Crawford (torn Achilles), I don't need to go down the list. But sitting here this time last year, relative to sitting here right now, we were better on paper than we are right now, for sure. But the line we played with, we're better today than the line we played with, and we have players who probably have a better chance of not having as much negative health issues as we did last season.”

Jones is bringing back two starters from the 2013 team in Nick Hayden (tackle) and George Selive (end).

He was forced to find replacements, and he trusted his personnel staff and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to find the pieces.

The Cowboys signed tackle Terrell McClain for depth and end Jeremy Mincey as a projected starter replacing Ware. But the cherry on top is Henry Melton, who will be a pass-rushing tackle replacing Hatcher.

Despite the new players, Jones didn't rule out another lineman being selected in the NFL draft, which starts May 8.

The Cowboys' moves on the defensive line are similar to what was done over a three-year period when the team made an overhaul to the offensive line.

It was an aging group and Jones' personnel staff drafted tackle Tyron Smith in 2011, signed Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau in free agency and signed Ronald Leary as an undrafted guard in 2012. The completion of the rebuilding effort ended last year with the selection of center Travis Frederick in the first round.

It's never easy to rebuild in city like Dallas. But you can rebuild certain parts of you team, which the Cowboys are doing with the defensive line.

“Well the challenge is, it's like holding two handfuls of jello,” Jones said. “When you get it shored up on one hand, it's coming out the other side. That's the makeup of dealing with contracts, players' skill level, expiring contracts -- that's the challenge.”

Garrett: Ware is one of the best ever

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cowboys made the difficult decision to let go of their franchise sack leader, DeMarcus Ware, two weeks ago. The Cowboys decided they couldn't afford the salary-cap hit ($16 million in 2014), and while coach Jason Garrett called Ware one of the best players in franchise history, he understood the reasons for cutting Ware loose.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesThe Broncos are betting DeMarcus Ware still has plenty left in the tank.
"DeMarcus Ware is one of the best players the franchise has ever had," Garrett told ESPNDallas Tuesday afternoon from the NFL owners meetings. "He played his position over the past eight or nine years as well as anybody has in the National Football League. Those are very difficult and challenging decisions. There's a lot of different factors that go into making a decision like that and we just felt like at this time, the best thing for us to do was to not compete to the extent that we would have had to to keep him in a Cowboys uniform. A great player, a great human being, one of the cornerstones of our franchise. But you have to make some of these hard decisions and you have to be disciplined to do that."

The man who made the final call was owner/general manager Jerry Jones.

Jones, like Garrett, had high-praise for Ware, who signed a three-year deal with Denver only 24 hours after being released.

The key with Ware's release is what Garrett said: "disciplined to do that." In the past, the Cowboys would have held onto veteran players despite their high salary hoping for one more strong season.

Ware missed three games to injury in 2013 and underwent elbow surgery this offseason.

Ware's age, 31, and health weren't an issue for the Broncos.

"If you really research it and look over his career and understand, he had surgery to repair his elbow, when that happened, watching him before it happened and after it happened and you realize it’s hard to play this game with one arm," Broncos coach John Fox said Tuesday. "You get it fixed. We're obviously betting he has a lot left. I think there is a lot of evidence of that. His character, being a captain, being a leader, playing a large part of that season with a pretty serious injury."

Jason Garrett not focused on contract

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- On Tuesday morning, Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said coach Jason Garrett's job is not on the line. Garrett is in the final year of his contract, and if anything, Jones said he and Garrett are shoulder-to-shoulder in decisions and he's confident 2014 will become better.

Tuesday afternoon at the NFL owners meetings, Garrett said he's glad to not only be on the same page with Jones, but he's not worried about his contract status.

"I've been in this league as a player and coach a long time, my focus has always been on doing my job as well as I can do it, regardless of what my contract status is," Garrett told ESPNDallas. "That’s something I just continue to focus on and we really emphasis that to our players, there’s a business side of football, that’s a part of this thing, but you need to focus on doing what you do as well as you can do it. That's just the way that I've always looked at it."

Jones said Garrett had the right to make changes to the coaching staff, which included hiring good friend Scott Linehan as the offensive playcaller replacing Bill Callahan, who maintains the position of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.

The Cowboys were on the same page in releasing defensive end DeMarcus Ware, whom Garrett said was one of the best the franchise ever had, and in other decisions such as signing Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton to improve the defensive line.

"I think that's a critical thing for everybody in the organization," Garrett said. "Everybody being on the same page, it takes communication, communicate deeply and well on a lot of different issues and hopefully you can develop the trust that you need. That applies to head coaches and owner, head coach and all his coaches, those guys among each other and obviously coaching staff with players and players among each other. If you can develop that trust within an organization it’s going to show up on the field and we believe in that strongly and we continue to try and do as well as we can."

Jerry tells Dez to keep his guard up

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Before the start of the 2012 season, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant agreed to a strict set of conduct rules. They were set up by Bryant and his adviser David Wells in consultation with team officials.

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Two years in, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the rules should remain in place.

"He doesn't need to drop his guard," Jones said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "In some respect, none of us do."

Jones' comments brought about laughter during his chat with beat writers.

Bryant must adhere the following guidelines:
  • A midnight curfew. If he's going to miss curfew, team officials must know in advance.
  • No alcohol.
  • He can't attend strip clubs and can attend nightclubs only if they are approved by the team and he has a security team with him.
  • He must attend counseling sessions twice a week.
  • A rotating three-man security team will leave one man with Bryant at all times.
  • Members of the security team will drive Bryant to practices, games and team functions.

If Bryant breaks any of the rules, he must have a legitimate excuse. If so, team officials are in contact with him quickly.

The rules stem from a difficult 2012 offseason in which Bryant was charged with allegedly assaulting his mother, Angela Bryant. The receiver was charged with a Class A misdemeanor by the DeSoto, Texas, police department.

The Dallas County district attorney's office dropped the charges against Bryant and made two stipulations: Bryant must agree to counseling sessions, and he must stay out of trouble for one year. That was accomplished.

The only controversy Bryant seems to find these days is on the field, but team officials cite his passionate nature. Bryant got into a nasty spat with tight end Jason Witten during a loss to the Detroit Lions last season and left the field before another loss with the Green Bay Packers was over.

Bryant said he made mistakes in both instances and apologized to Witten and his teammates.

"But as far as his ability to help us win as a player, he is an established player," Jones said.

Tony Romo ahead of schedule in rehab

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The biggest worry for the Cowboys on the injury front is quarterback Tony Romo.

He underwent back surgery in December, and all indications are that he's ahead of schedule.

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"He is ahead of expectations," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "He is ahead of where we expected him to be."

Jones said Romo hasn't started throwing passes yet, but he can make throwing motions. The Cowboys begin their offseason program on April 21, and Romo is expected to participate in some capacity.

Showing his faith in Romo, Jones told reporters that with Romo as Dallas' QB, the team isn't facing a rebuilding year. The starting quarterback, who missed the final game of the 2013 season because of an injured back, has undergone two back procedures in the past year.

Romo had a cyst removed from his back last spring and then had a discectomy (surgery to remove a herniated disc) in December. Romo returned home on the same day of that surgery and visited Valley Ranch two days later for exit interviews.

After another 8-8 finish, the Cowboys seemed to be in rebuilding mode, with a quarterback in his mid-30s who is coming off back surgery.

"You don’t rebuild with Romo,” Jones said. “The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs, and our receivers -- you don’t rebuild with an offense that’s got the capability we’ve got. We didn’t bring [Scott] Linehan in here to rebuild.”

Cowboys mull vested option on OT Smith

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cowboys have had discussions with the agents for Tyron Smith about picking up the vested option on the starting left tackle's contract.

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Smith, the ninth overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, enters his fourth season on the heels of his first Pro Bowl berth. The Cowboys have until May 2 to pick up the vested option for 2015. If they don't, Smith can become a free agent after this season.

If the Cowboys pick up the option, Smith will receive a base salary of $10.039 million in 2015, which would be the final year of his contract.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he would like to keep not only Smith but also wide receiver Dez Bryant long term.

Bryant, also coming off his first Pro Bowl season with the Cowboys, enters the final year of his contract. The team hasn't had any extensive contract talks with either players' representatives.

"We have spoken," Jones said. "I don't know that recognizing that you have a fifth-year option is negotiating -- that's what I'm getting into."

Cowboys must deal with Mincey issues

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- In his seven NFL seasons, Jeremy Mincey can be best described as a good player on the field, but inconsistent off it.

The Cowboys signed Mincey as a potential starter at defensive end, but last season in Jacksonville there were issues.

Mincey wasn't allowed to travel to to a road game at Houston for violating team rules and he was deactivated for another game for missing meetings. Mincey told reporters he was distracted with a new baby and starting a business.

Mincey wasn't using it as an excuse, but just dealing with his issues. Eventually things became too much for the Jags and they released him and he was later picked up by Denver.

"I think there were some distractions there for him," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Tuesday of Mincey at the NFL owners meetings. "We tried to work though those distractions. We texted each other when he was at Denver and I wished him well at the Super Bowl. I just think he had maybe too many distractions and to be in another environment where there are loss of those I think maybe is good."

Bradley said Mincey is a good person and enjoyed talking with him about growing up in the NFL.

Asked if Mincey is an undisciplined guy, Bradley laughed and said, "on the field, no."

"He is really strong. He is good at the point of attack. I think he has some inside rush. For us, he got some pressure on the quarterback. For him to be in that environment or to go to Denver I think was a good move for him. I know I have had extended conversations with him and you do gravitate towards him. He is open minded to listening and hearing things. And with a guys like (Cowboys defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli there he will continue to improve."

Cowboys try to solve injury issues

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Dallas Cowboys had 12 players listed on their injury report because of hamstring injuries in 2013. In the season's final five weeks, the Cowboys lost starters Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and main returner Dwayne Harris to a variety of injuries.

Cowboys officials would like to solve the injury bug, though you can't predict when they may happen.

"We've looked at it not only through our viewpoint but from a league standpoint," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "And I think there are some issues in the fact that the clubs, with the new work rules, we get our hands on these guys a lot later now."

The new collective bargaining agreement gives players more time away from the facility during the offseason where they conduct their own types of workouts, which in some cases doesn't jive with the teams.

However, the Cowboys were frustrated with the hamstring injuries Miles Austin suffered last season and they shut him down for three weeks to recover.

Yet, there were other injuries; a quad that cost DeMarcus Ware three games (the first missed games of his career), a stinger to Jason Hatcher and Claiborne's own recovery from a hamstring injury that irked team officials because they were working hard to solve the problems.

"In the little bit of time you like to have them, in a competition strength and conditioning program before they start having their OTAs and minicamps," Jones said. "Obviously that window is shortened. We're trying to figure out (what to do). These guys need to do more work and get themselves prepared for the OTAs and minicamps."

Cowboys confident in Bryant, Williams

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- If the Dallas Cowboys go into the 2014 season with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams as the starters at wide receivers, team executive vice president Stephen Jones is all for it.

"They were pretty good last year," Jones said. "I think there was some proof of that; we’re very confident."

Last season, Bryant and Williams combined for 18 touchdowns and 26 receptions of 20 or more yards. It was also Bryant's coming-out party, as he earned his first Pro Bowl berth with 93 catches for 1,233 yards. Williams, in his rookie season, had 44 catches for 736 yards.

The Cowboys released Miles Austin, saving $5.5 million as a post-June 1 cut, and that means the team will go with younger receivers in addition to Bryant and Williams. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris are also on the depth chart.

"We're not saying we will rule a veteran out, but right now we’re obviously comfortable," Jones said. "And we’ll see what happens in the draft, and at some point if we feel like we need to supplement the group, then we’ll look at it."

Cowboys expect Kyle Orton to return

March, 24, 2014
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ORLANDO -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects backup quarterback Kyle Orton to return in 2014.

There was some concern following the 2013 season that Orton would retire, but apparently finances and the lure of playing one more year proved to be too great.

"Yes, that’s how I understand it," Jones said at the NFL owners meetings on Monday. "I guess everyone reserves the right to change their mind. We’ve just talked to (Orton's agent) Dave (Dunn) briefly. We’re assuming he’s under contract and he is."

Orton is scheduled to make a base salary of $3.25 million in 2014 and has a cap number of $4.377 million. If Orton retires, he would need to pay the Cowboys at least $3 million.

Orton's contract doesn't end until 2016, yet, the Cowboys have until the 23rd day of the 2015 league year to void the last two seasons of his contract, which they are expected to do. Orton played well for an injured Tony Romo in the 2013 regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. Orton completed 30-of-46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The last interception, in the fourth quarter, sealed the victory for the Eagles and knocked the Cowboys from playoff contention.

When the season ended, some thought Orton might retire, but further conversations with him indicated otherwise.

What also led to speculation that the Cowboys and Orton would part ways is the signing of Brandon Weeden as the No. 3 QB. Weeden, a 2012 first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns, lasted two seasons before getting released.

The Cowboys have signed him to a two-year contract.

Jones said Weeden's signing had nothing to do with Orton.

"That was an opportunity," Jones said. "I think it was well-documented that we had him in our second round. That was a chance to get a quarterback -- I know he’s not young -- but he’s young as far as league years are concerned. We like him. But if he proves out he’s worth developing, then we’ll carry three, like we did with (Stephen) McGee for many years."

Cowboys owners meetings primer

March, 24, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones lead the Dallas Cowboys' executives to the annual NFL owners meetings that start Monday morning.

Coach Jason Garrett is also present to take part in the mandatory news briefings with reporters. Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones are also expected to speak with the media during the meetings.

Some things to look for this week:

The competition committee: Stephen Jones is a member of the competition committee and the Cowboys, along with the rest of the teams, will vote on several potential new rules changes including expanding the game-day rosters on Thursday and Saturday games, moving kickoffs to the 40 and potentially extending the goal posts. The kickoff change is aimed at improving player safety, but it's a tough rule for the Cowboys considering Dwayne Harris averaged 30.6 yards per return. If the point-after-attempts go farther back, it might not affect the Cowboys much. Kicker Dan Bailey was six-of-seven from between 40-47 yards in 2013.

Agents: Several player agents attend the owners meetings and the Cowboys could begin the process of extending the contracts of Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith. The team has most likely had internal discussions about what the market would dictate for each player. The Cowboys want to take care of each player long-term and have good relationships with each players' agent. Also, David Dunn, the agent for Garrett, normally is a visitor at the meetings. Garrett is in the last year of his contract and it will be interesting to see if he tries to get the Cowboys discuss extending Garrett's contract.

What is Jerry going to say?: The last time Jerry Jones spoke with reporters, it was a two-hour chat at the combine. Will he do the same? It's not so much how long he talks, but what he says. At the combine, Jones intimated Garrett made all the play calls with Bill Callahan basically reading what was on the play sheet. With the Cowboys releasing DeMarcus Ware and not re-signing Jason Hatcher, Jones' thoughts on letting those two players go, especially an iconic player such as Ware will be a topic of discussion with reporters.

What to ask Garrett?: The head coach will speak 7:15 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning. Potential questions for Garrett:

1. Why did you keep Bill Callahan on the staff after demoting him?
2. Who is the starting defensive end opposite George Selive?
3. Is Henry Melton the answer to the defensive problems?

Of course, Garrett will get more questions, but you get the idea.

Odds and ends: The full NFL schedule won't get released, but the season opening game, on a Thursday night, likely will be announced. Will the Cowboys get to visit Seattle, the defending champs, to start the season? The NFL will also announce the compensatory picks for each team. The Cowboys could get at least one, after cornerback Mike Jenkins signed with Oakland.

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