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Jerry Jones backs Tony Romo, says drafting QB in 2016 is no 'have to'

MOBILE, Ala. -- As soon as the North practice ended Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones walked up to North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz to shake his hand.

Despite being in the early part of the evaluation process, the connection of Wentz and the Cowboys has already begun, perhaps even with the fourth overall pick in this year's draft.

But as Jones spoke to reporters soon after meeting Wentz, he said it is not a must for his team to draft a quarterback this spring in the first -- or any -- round.

"There are many options," Jones said. "There's free agency. The question you [asked], and I'm taking it literally, is, Do you have to? Have to do what? Do we have to [draft a quarterback] to compete for a Super Bowl next year? Do we have to to compete for a Super Bowl in the future? Do you have to have it in place after you have this draft? There's no 'have to' here, in my mind, because we have the luxury of having [Tony] Romo for a minimum three, four, five years here. So we're going to play football and hopefully play it well with a healthy Romo."

Since taking Troy Aikman with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 draft, the Cowboys have drafted just four quarterbacks: Steve Walsh (1989, supplemental), Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001) and Stephen McGee (2009).

Romo, who is expected to have surgery on his left collarbone in the near future, turns 36 in April and has missed 13 games in the past two seasons. He missed 12 in 2015 after breaking his collarbone twice and one in 2014 with two transverse process fractures. He also had two back surgeries in 2013.

Romo said his back is as strong as it has been in years. If he has surgery on the collarbone, he is expected to be ready for organized team activities in May.

In addition to Wentz, California's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch are considered the top quarterback prospects, but there will be other options in subsequent rounds, like North Carolina's Jacoby Brissett, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg that could be developmental candidates.

"I think that the time that a quarterback is learning or a time that he's being exposed to, let's say, another accomplished quarterback, in our case, I think that you could gain a tremendous amount," Jones said. "You also have the ability to, so to speak, develop and more ease into the situation rather than the crash course of putting them out there yesterday. Troy was an exception. He got sacked 11 times in one game against Philadelphia [as a rookie] and a lesser, a more fragile psyche, it might have done some damage over the long term there. In that case, he showed how tough he was mentally."