Online Extra: Cowboys ponder another long off-season
By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Sports Writer
IRVING, Texas — Jerry Jones has another long offseason to ponder what the Dallas owner called “unthinkable” — three straight season-ending losses that left the Cowboys at 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
Here are his quick takes: Jason Garrett will return, Tony Romo’s back is going to be fine and another shuffling of the defensive coaching staff could be coming.
Jones has been saying emphatically for more than a month that Garrett will be back for a fourth full season. The latest declaration came after Sunday night’s 24-22 loss to Philadelphia that sewed up the coach’s third break-even record in three full seasons, and his 0-3 record in finales with the NFC East title on the line.
“We’ve put a lot of effort in training as a franchise into Jason Garrett, and I want to take advantage of that,” Jones told reporters after the game. “If we don’t have him, we don’t get payback for all the miscues and losses and criticism of sideline management. We don’t get a chance to benefit from the one way you learn, and that is the mistakes you make.”
Romo, the loser in the first two win-or-go-home games, had back surgery Friday after getting hurt in a season-saving victory at Washington. He missed the loss to the Eagles, with Kyle Orton throwing the game-clinching interception this time.
After two back surgeries in eight months, Romo will be 34 when he takes another snap for the Cowboys. Notice the “when” instead of the “if.” That’s Jones talking.
“The nature of his injury was not alarming,” Jones said. “It was not complicated.”
Jones figures Romo will be ready for offseason workouts this spring. Tight end Jason Witten doesn’t have any doubt, and will welcome him back even though he had season highs of 12 catches for 135 yards with Orton throwing to him on Sunday.
“Obviously it’s been a tough eight months for him physically,” Witten said of Romo, who walked gingerly while attending exit meetings at team headquarters Monday. “I know how he works. I know how he competes. I know how he trains, that he’ll bounce back and be even better next year.”
There might not be a next year for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose first season in charge of the Dallas defense ended with the most yards allowed in franchise history — by almost 1,000.
The Cowboys were competitive defensively in the last games against the Redskins and Eagles. But there were many unsightly moments in the first year of a four-man defensive front after nearly a decade with three linemen and four linebackers.
Dallas gave up the first two 600-yard games in franchise history, the first 40-first down game in league history and couldn’t stop a pair of backup quarterbacks when it mattered most late in the season. The Cowboys were last in total defense in Kiffin’s 27th NFL season, a career marked by a Super Bowl-winning defense in Tampa Bay that led the league in yards allowed, points allowed and interceptions.
Dallas did finish the season without defensive leader Sean Lee, who missed five of the last six games with hamstring and neck injuries. The defensive line was a mad scramble all season because of injuries.
“I wouldn’t evaluate Monte Kiffin without taking in consideration our circumstances this year with injuries, his ability to put in place guys coming in and out on a weekly basis,” Jones said. “One thing about having the career that he’s had is you get to look at the whole career when you’re looking at it.”
The most troubling development with the new scheme was how much DeMarcus Ware struggled in it. The franchise sacks leader had a career-low six and missed games for the first time in his nine seasons because of a thigh injury. He’s also been dealing with back and elbow issues.
The Cowboys might even end up releasing Ware to save salary cap space if he doesn’t agree to a pay cut. He says he’s willing to restructure his contract, but not reduce his salary.
“I’ve got to think about how I started training camp,” Ware said. “I wasn’t hurt then and I felt like I couldn’t be stopped. I’ve got to figure now how to get through the whole season without being hurt.”
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