Cowboys living in present for a change

SAN ANTONIO -- Normally, when you attend the first training camp news conference with the Dallas Cowboys, you hear about the expectations.

Some years it's about reaching the playoffs. Other years, like 2010, the expectations are to reach a Super Bowl.

Wednesday afternoon in the Alamodome, there was no such talk from Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett. It was the first time in a while the owner and his coach, whoever it was, weren't talking about an expected end result.

What we saw Wednesday was Jones getting emotional about the new labor agreement and Garrett talking about his practice schedule.

In between came this comment from Garrett: "We need to stop talking and get to work."

Jones said his 2010 team "stunk it up."

Garrett mentioned moving on from the 2010 season and seemed to dismiss the success the team had after he took over after a 1-7 start that cost Wade Phillips his job.

There was no mention of the playoffs or a possible Super Bowl berth.

There's a reason five Super Bowl trophies are sitting in the lobby of Valley Ranch. And why blue T-shirts are hanging around store racks with the Super Bowl rings on the back of them.

The Cowboys are not like any other NFL team. Championship expectations are part of the franchise's DNA.

But any expectations for this year's team were muted Wednesday. Garrett came out loud and clear that the team needs to improve in all areas. This is not to say the Cowboys don't think they can reach the playoffs, they're just taking a more humble approach.

They have more immediate concerns on their minds than how they want the season to end.

Jones noted that more veterans would play in the preseason because of the lockout, which caused younger players to miss valuable time to practice and learn the playbooks.

The complexities of the new collective bargaining agreement had team executive vice president Stephen Jones trying to explain things to reporters.

When you finish the season the way the Cowboys did, at 6-10, you begin to realize the holes you have.

Stephen Jones said there are six budgeted spots on the roster to sign free agents.

Perhaps a team that continues to pay for past mistakes has to be more humble about the future.

The Cowboys have already told three underachieving vets not to return. They won't go after a veteran wide receiver to replace receiver Roy Williams. The team is willing to take severe cap hits in the future to make things work this year.

By cutting Williams, the team will take an $8 million hit in dead money on the 2012 salary cap and another $4 million with the release of Marion Barber.

That's $12 million in dead money in 2012 to two players who won't play a snap for the Cowboys in 2011. Jones and Garrett are serious about fixing this roster.

Yeah, the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007, but the next season the organization took a step back and missed the postseason. That offseason, then-coach Wade Phillips made subtle changes to how he conducted his business, and the Cowboys released Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and safety Roy Williams.

In 2009, the Cowboys regrouped and won their first playoff game in more than a decade. The expectations were raised last year with Jones saying he would like the Cowboys to become the first franchise to host a Super Bowl.

We all know how that turned out.

This time, nobody is talking about playing in Indianapolis for the title game or, for that matter, a meaningful playoff game in January.

Maybe this is a good thing for a Cowboys team that was humbled last year.

Garrett is right: It is time to shut up and play and let everything else fall into place.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.