FRISCO, Texas – Jerry Jones honored DeMarcus Ware with a ceremonial signing Monday that allowed the franchise sacks leader to retire as a Dallas Cowboy on the same day the team owner discussed how the draft might help find the next dominant pass rusher.
Whenever the Cowboys decide to pay homage to Tony Romo with their 10-year starter heading to the broadcast booth, they will do so feeling secure about their future under center. They won’t be thinking much about quarterbacks in the first round Thursday night.
Jones couldn’t have imagined this a year ago before the Cowboys took Dak Prescott in the fourth round with the idea he might someday replace Romo. Instead, Prescott put up one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history to basically end Romo’s Dallas tenure.
“It just really shows me that positive things are more likely to happen to you than because of you,” Jones said. “To be sitting here right now with the future as we have it, I could have never dreamed that this hand would have been dealt this way.”
So maybe the Cowboys can get lucky in their search for the next Ware, who won his only Super Bowl in three seasons with Denver after Dallas cut him in a salary cap move following the 2013 season when he had 117 sacks in nine years. The 34-year-old Ware, who retired last month , finished with 138 1/2 sacks, eighth on NFL’s career list.
Dallas just hasn’t had much luck trying to replace Ware, using second-round picks in 2014 and 2015 on another DeMarcus with back issues (DeMarcus Lawrence) and a player who had a documented substance-abuse problem (Randy Gregory, now suspended for almost all of 2017).
The Cowboys have the 28th pick after a franchise-record 11-game winning streak led to the top seed in the NFC, a run fueled by Prescott and fellow rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL rushing champion after getting picked fourth overall. Dallas lost its divisional playoff to Green Bay.
Defense would appear to be the focus because Dallas also needs help in the secondary following the departures in free agency of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.
Executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones helped win the battle of wills with former coach Bill Parcells when Dallas took Ware in 2005 and steered his father away from troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel three years ago. Now he’s hesitant to declare that the Cowboys would skip an offensive player at the top of their board when they are on the clock.
“We’ve had years where we said ‘Hey, we’re going to go to the next defensive player,'” Stephen Jones said. “I think that’s where you get yourself in a lot of trouble. If you pass up really good football players to take guys that you may have a question mark on, then I think that’s where you start to make your mistakes.”
The Cowboys rebuilt their offensive line with three first-round picks in a span of four seasons (2011-2014), a big part of why they’ve been offensive-minded at the top of the draft most of the past decade.
Now that Dallas is getting into the second contracts for those blockers, along with a $70 million, five-year deal for 2014 All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant, most of the salary cap is taken by the offense.
The Cowboys wouldn’t mind having a pay big for one of their pass rushers in two or three years, and they think they already have a few with potential. David Irving has shown flashes, and Dallas should see Charles Tapper for the first time this year after a back injury sidelined him as a rookie third-round pick.
“It’s just that we don’t have that guy that just left the room,” Stephen Jones said, referring to Ware . “A guy when you break the huddle they look at and say where is he? But we have got some good, solid football players in our defensive line.”
And they’re set at quarterback, just not with the guy they figured it would be a year ago.