The Cowboys did their homework in free agency and got the guys they wanted and now they have a chance to go into the draft and take the best available players, according to coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys signed a team-record seven newcomers and re-signed one of their own in free agency, including cornerback Brandon Carr, guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, backup quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers, linebacker Dan Conner and receiver Kevin Ogletree.

“We’re excited about it,” Garrett said. “We addressed needs with players that we liked. We targeted players, we evaluated players and we felt good about the guys we were pursuing. Now, all they do is come into the mix on our football team. We paid different guys different contracts, and there is a business part to the NFL, there is a recruiting part to free agency, once you acquire those guys they get into the mix of your football team. We wanted to create competition throughout our team. We feel like we did that with guys we really liked, the right kind of guys who have some talent and some upside. Guys that we think help our team now and going forward.”

How did free agency affect your approach to the draft?

“One of the things we did in free agency is we tried to address some of the perceived needs on this team,” Garrett said. “The goal in the draft is to draft the best player available. All teams have that goal. Sometimes you are able to achieve that and sometimes not. So hopefully by the time we get to end of April we will be in that position. We will pick the guys we think are the best guy for our football team.”

Jones said the Cowboys did so well in free agency they will be open to pretty much anything in the draft, including selecting a premier player at 14 or trading out of the pick.

“Because of how well we did in free agency, we will be able to draft or trade,” Jones said. “In other words, we could easily have a situation that’s in our best interest but if you just had to have that safety or that offensive lineman, you might not have been able to make a trade you wanted to make and go down. Or possibly go up. So my point is, free agency helped us normally, purely look at how we can best improve the personnel on this team through the draft, whether it be trading or just picking the player. Not a luxury, but picking the player.”

And because the team signed two guards who they like and believe can start, Jones said the Cowboys are inclined not to pick up a guard in the first round and will likely focus on defense with a cornerback, safety, linebacker or defensive lineman.

Stanford guard David DeCastro has been a popular pick for the Cowboys at 14.

“We probably wouldn’t prefer (to take an offensive lineman),” Jones said. I wouldn’t. That would keep us from maybe having to pick a top player there in the first round on the offensive line. It did it both ways. It left us totally flexible there. You might want to move down and pick up a player that’s going to be there rather than being at your 14th — you might not have been able to do that had you not had the success that we had in free agency.”

Jones said the presence of Carr wouldn’t stop them from taking a cornerback, despite his $50.1 million contract because cornerback is a premium need position. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that starting cornerback Mike Jenkins is in the last year of his contract. Drew Rosenhaus is his agent and has already asked for a contract extension — at least not one he would take, considering he will likely be seeking a deal like Carr got.

“It’s just that’s a premium position in ours and most others,” Jones said. “So I don’t have an aversion at some positions (like) a special pressure player, a really good deal at corner for where you are in the draft.”
NOTES, QUOTES

–Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman has caused quite the stir over the last week when he said that Tony Rom was a better quarterback than he ever was because he can do more things.
Well, the bottom line is Aikman won three Super Bowl titles and is in the Hall of Fame.

Romo owns all the team passing records and puts up gaudy stats but has won just one playoff game and is mainly known for not getting it down when it matters most.

Those are reasons Cowboys owner Jerry Jones respectively disagrees with his championship quarterback. Jones thinks Romo can win a Super Bowl but until he does, he is not in Aikman’s class.

“We all know Troy does his homework and is very conscientious and doesn’t deal in lilies, but to me he’s being gratuitous and he’s being modest,” Jones said. “I’ve gotten three Super Bowl rings because of what he’s about. I would say one thing. We have many things I think that we agree on, his assessment that Romo is a Super Bowl caliber quarterback is one that we really agree on. But I have a little hard time making the same comparison that he did. I know what Troy was and how much what we wouldn’t be today without Troy Aikman, he’s being pretty modest.

–The Cowboys were awarded one extra compensatory draft pick for the upcoming draft.

They will get an extra fourth-round pick, No. 135 overall for the loss of defensive tackle Stephen Bowen last year to the Redskins. The Cowboys now have eight picks in the draft, including two fourth-round selections.

–The Cowboys’ offseason program has been reduced from 12 to nine weeks because of the new player-friendly collective bargaining agreement.

It will begin on April 16. For the first two weeks the coaches are not allowed to be on the field with the players at all. All throwing and team sessions will be run by the players during that time.

Garrett said the Cowboys will conduct a rookie minicamp the weekend after the draft and then begin 10 days of organized team activities around Memorial Day leading up to a mandatory veteran minicamp.

The Cowboys have yet to decide the dates for training camp, which will be held in Oxnard, Calif. But Garrett said he plans to begin 15 days prior to the first preseason game, which has yet to be scheduled.

The Cowboys are considering holding a five-day rookie camp for first-year players, quarterbacks and injured players before the veterans are scheduled to report. But he has not yet made a final decision because he doesn’t want to make camp too long.

–The Cowboys will start bringing in players for the 30 national pre-draft visits on April 2, 3 and 4. They will then conduct Dallas-day visits for local prospects that went to college or high school in the area on April 5-6.

–Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is undergoing the process of having lap band surgery like his brother and Jets coach Rex Ryan did. Rex Ryan made the announcement at the NFL owners meetings.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett declined to comment on Ryan’s personal health decisions but said he has been in the office and will not miss any time during the offseason program, minicamp or training camp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “To me the whole key to that position and right now the numbers are always inflated so it still comes to playing great in the fourth quarter, playing great with the game on the line, and obviously playing great in the playoffs. It’s hard to think or for me to name three or four guys that were better than Troy in that situation. So I think Troy was being very nice and diplomatic. There aren’t many guys I would list better than Troy Aikman. It’s not anything against Tony Romo or any devaluation. There are a lot of guys who make plays throughout games. There are guys who make special plays when the game’s on the line, plays that make the difference between winning and losing. That was Troy’s greatest strength.” — Chargers coach and former Cowboys Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator Norv Turner on Troy Aikman’s comments that Tony Romo is a better quarterback than he ever was.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

–Cowboys coach Jason Garrett attended the the second Alabama Pro Day on Thursday on his way home from the NFL league meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.
This is the only college Pro Day Garrett is scheduled to attend. He only visited one last spring: at USC to look at tackle Tyron Smith who became the team’s first-round pick, ninth overall.

There are several Alabama players who could be targets for the Cowboys with the 14th overall pick in 2012 or in a possible move down in the first round. They are safety Mark Barron, linebacker Courtney Upshaw and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

–Never mind that the Cowboys have taken linebackers with injury histories, causing them to drop from the first round to the second round in back-to-back years; that is not part of the team’s draft strategy in looking to gain value.

The Cowboys did that the last two years with linebacker Sean Lee in 2010 and Bruce Carter in 2011.

“It certainly was not intentional to say ‘OK, We’re going to take a guy who had ACL surgery last year, that’s what we want to do in the second round,'” Garrett said. “Bruce’s was much more clear-cut about when his injury was and what we were going to be able to get from him. Each of those guys has different skill sets, different strengths. They come from different places. I understand why you’re asking the question but that’s not something we intentionally try to do, like this is our philosophy in the second round. We want to take linebackers who have injury histories. That’s not what we want to do.”

A history of knee injuries at Penn State raised red flags about Lee, causing him to drop to the second round.

Carter suffered a season-ending knee injury late in his senior season at North Carolina and missed the first six games of 2011 on the non-football injury list.

Both are expected to start at linebacker in 2012.

“With every evaluation of a player you evaluate the whole player and you say, ‘This is what we like, this is what we don’t like, this is what we love, this is what we can live with,'” Garrett said. “In regards to Bruce Carter, we just like the kind of football player he was coming out. One of the things we felt like that forced him to slide was the injury and now we have to get our arms around what the injury is. What the history of players is coming back from injuries like that and can we take this player who we think a lot of maybe a little bit later feel like it’s a good value for us, with the understanding we have some veteran players at his position, we’re not going to get a lot out of him this year but at the end of the year he’s going to have a role for us and going into the following year he might have a much more prominent role and everything we thought about prior to drafting Bruce Carter has kind played out up to this point.

“We want to see him play more and how he plays on a everyday basis as a healthy football player, we felt that was a good bet. And what you’re doing is you’re making these educated decisions we like this about him, he came from there and you’re trying to put that together and make your best decision. We felt he was an injured player and felt like we could get him at a pick that was good value for us relative to the player we think he can be and we’re going to live with that injury.”

TEAM NEEDS

1. Guard: The Cowboys need to get bigger, stronger and better up front. Because of quarterback Tony Romo’s slight stature, protecting up the middle and keeping pressure out of his face is just as important as protecting the blind side. The Cowboys have some nice options at guard on the roster but none are considered premier anchors. They signed Nate Livings from Cincinnati, but could add more.

2. Cornerback: Even though the Cowboys signed a cornerback in free agency, they will still target the position in the draft. They need to fill depth as there are only three corners on the roster right now and they need to play for the future as starter Mike Jenkins is in the final year of his contract.

3. Linebacker: You can never have too many pass rushers as the Cowboys found out last season and with Anthony Spencer playing on a one-year deal, they need to begin looking for his replacement.

MEDICAL WATCH

–RB DeMarco Murray (ankle) and CB Mike Jenkins (shoulder) are on schedule in their rehabs from surgery.

It is still unknown if they will be ready for the start of the offseason program April 16, but there have been no setbacks, coach Jason Garrett said.

“They’re on schedule and they’re making progress and you have different checkpoints throughout your rehab process and those guys are really on schedule going forward,” Garrett said. “We don’t like to project too much into the future about if they’re going to practice in OTA 1 or OTA 4 or whatever that is. We just know they’re doing what they’re supposed to do and they’re getting better every day and we’re excited about them being back for us.”

FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Anthony Spencer (tendered at $8.856 million).

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–CB Alan Ball will likely not be brought back and certainly won’t be a priority. The Cowboys will be focusing on cornerbacks in the draft and free agency.

–LB Keith Brooking wants to return for another season. Will only be brought back to mentor to the young linebackers and for leadership.

–OG Derrick Dockery was solid when he played last season. But he would only be brought back for depth purposes if at all. The Cowboys will be looking for a long-term upgrade in the draft and free agency.

–SS Abram Elam wants to return and the Cowboys are considering bringing him back. Yet they are trying to upgrade the position and Elam is more of a stop-gap answer than a long-term solution.

–OG Montrae Holland was solid when he played last year but the Cowboys are looking for upgrades through the draft and free agency. Could be pursued for a return if they don’t go big in free agency or high in the draft with a guard.

–LB Bradie James saw his playing time reduced last season and likely will not be pursued for a return as the Cowboys plan to go younger at the position. He is not a special teams demon so there is no reason to bring him back as a backup.

–P Mat McBriar is coming off knee surgery and will not be ready until possibly minicamp. The Cowboys already have a potential replacement in Chris Jones. They will take a wait and see approach in regards to bringing McBriar back to compete in camp. He is not a top priority.

–RB Sammy Morris was only a stop-gap addition at the end of last season. Will not be pursued for a return.

–CB Frank Walker was a solid role player for the Cowboys last year. But they are looking for upgrades in the secondary. He will not be brought back.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

–QB Chris Greisen (not tendered as RFA) was a late season injury addition for practice purposes.

–WR Jesse Holley (not tendered as ERFA) has been solid on special teams and made plays in the regular offense when called upon. Will have to prove himself all over again in camp. But that is only way this reality star knows how to make team.

–RB Chauncey Washington (not tendered as ERFA) was signed for depth purposes last year but came in overweight. Won’t be brought to camp next season

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

–DE Clifton Geathers has shown promise as a prospect. Will be brought back to camp but needs to show he can be a solid contributor.

–OT Jermey Parnell is a developmental project the Cowboys are still working with. Will be signed and brought to camp but must prove he can be the team’s third tackle

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

–WR Kevin Ogletree: not tendered as RFA; 1 yr terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

–C/G Mackenzy Bernadeau: UFA Panthers; $11M/4 yrs, $3.25M SB.

–CB Brandon Carr: UFA Chiefs; $50.1M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$25.5M guaranteed.

–LB Dan Connor: UFA Panthers; $6.5M/2 yrs.

–LB Isaiah Greenhouse: FA; terms unknown.

–OG Nate Livings: UFA Bengals; $19M/5 yrs, $6.2M guaranteed.

–QB Kyle Orton: UFA Chiefs; $10.5M/3 yrs, $5M SB (five-year deal that will void to three).

–FS Brodney Pool: UFA Jets; $1.2M/1 yr, $100,000 SB.

–FB Lawrence Vickers: FA Texans; $2.4M/2 yrs, $230,000 SB.

PLAYERS LOST

–TE Martellus Bennett: UFA Giants; $1.8M/1 yr, $675,000SB/$100,000 RB.

–PK David Buehler (released/failed physical).

–FB Tony Fiammetta: Not tendered as RFA/Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.

–QB Jon Kitna (UFA; retired).

–OG Kyle Kosier (released).

–CB Terence Newman (released/post-June 1 designation).

–WR Laurent Robinson: UFA Jaguars; $32.5M/5 yrs, $8M SB/$13.6M guaranteed.

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