- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Dallas Cowboys have so many issues, but health proved to be a nagging one in 2013. Now with quarterback Tony Romo recovering from back surgery, the questions about whether he'll return to top form will linger until the start of the regular season.
But Romo isn't alone in his recovery from health problems.
We look at five players whose health should concern the Cowboys moving forward:
1. Romo: The starting quarterback had a strong season (3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) until injuring his back in the Week 16 game at Washington. Romo dealt with minor back problems during the season, and it all came to a head against the Redskins. Now he's recovering from back surgery, and Cowboys officials say Romo should be ready for offseason workouts. Will Romo be the same elusive player with arm strength after his recovery? The data on recovering from back surgery says of course he will. Troy Aikman had a similar back surgery, but he was in his 20s not his mid-30s like Romo. If Romo can't recover or return to form, the Cowboys need to protect themselves and draft a quarterback. The team is opposed to using a first-round pick on a quarterback, but at some point it needs to in case Romo doesn't return as the same player.
2. DeMarcus Ware: Ware battled quad, neck and elbow problems in 2013. He's coming off a six-sack season, the first time since 2005 he failed to reach double-digits. He looked dominant at times, but faced fewer and fewer double-teams from opposing offenses in 2013. Is Ware on the decline? Was his health the reason for a poor season? The Cowboys have a big decision to make regarding their starting defensive end. If they keep him, his contract will be restructured to create salary-cap space. Pay cut? Ware is against that. Cutting him? The Cowboys would create a little more than $7 million in cap space, however, if Ware isn't on the decline and he plays well in 2014, it's a mistake that would haunt Dallas. The Cowboys could also make him a third-down player, but he is scheduled to make $12.2 million in base salary this season, which would make him the most expensive situational pass-rusher in league history.
3. Sean Lee. He's the heartbeat of the defense. Yet, because of injuries, he has failed to finish the past two seasons. He was placed on injured reserve in October 2012 with a toe injury. And he missed the final three games of the 2013 season with sprained ligaments in his neck. Dallas needs him on the field late in the season, especially with the Cowboys being in win-or-go-home games in Week 17. When you don't have your best pieces in the season's biggest moments, it leaves you at a disadvantage. The Cowboys protected themselves with Lee's contract extension, which increases the value based on playing time. He is missing time, and while he's not going anywhere, the Cowboys need him on the field for a full season to maximize his value.
4. DeMarco Murray. The starting running back is coming off a Pro Bowl season -- he rushed for 1,124 yards with nine touchdowns. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and hasn't played a full season in his three-year NFL career. Running back is a physically demanding position, and outside of the elite ones, NFL teams change backs on a regular basis. Murray will be 26 when the season starts in September, so he's young enough to think he has a bright future, however, his health gives you pause. The Cowboys addressed the position in the draft last year, selecting Joseph Randle in the fifth round. Getting another running back in the draft in May doesn't appear to be a need. But what the Cowboys need is Murray to play 16 games.
5. Morris Claiborne. The starting cornerback injured his shoulder in Week 1 and missed a total of six games because of hamstring injuries. He lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick, and couldn't get it back. Claiborne, however, was the nickle cornerback, and when healthy was inconsistent in that role. The Cowboys moved up to the No. 6 spot overall in 2012 to grab him, but his health has been more of a story than his play on the field. He's entering a phase now where results are needed to justify that high draft pick.