Roster allows Cowboys to dream big

7/6/2010 - NFL Dallas Cowboys

In the last 10 years, we have seen seven different teams play for the first time in the Super Bowl.

During this time span, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl titles.

The Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Arizona Cardinals, teams with little playoff pedigree, played in the Super Bowl more times than the Dallas Cowboys have in the last 10 years.

When the 2010 season starts, the Cowboys will be the favorites to win the NFC East, something they've done twice in the past three seasons.

Winning the division title is fine, but the Cowboys want to win something else: a Super Bowl. There are all sorts of incentives around Valley Ranch these days regarding representing the NFC in the title game, especially with Super Bowl XLV being played at Cowboys Stadium.

No team in league history has hosted a Super Bowl in its home stadium, and if there's one man who can dream big like this, its Jerry Jones.

"I don't have any problems with an imagination," Jones said last month. "I listened to Charles Haley talk to our team, and the first thing that was said is you've got to imagine what you're going to be and you go after it. It's worth dreaming on and it's worth acting on."

Whether the Cowboys can achieve this remains to be seen. However, they've put themselves in a good position to make a strong run at it.

Quarterback Tony Romo turned 30 this year and is hitting his prime.

The team got younger at one of the most vital positions on the roster: left tackle. Out is 35-year-old Flozell Adams; in is 26-year-old Doug Free. The Cowboys additionally upgraded at the spot by trading for Alex Barron, who didn't miss a start his last four seasons in St. Louis.

Wide receiver Miles Austin, coming off a Pro Bowl season, is starting to emerge as an offensive threat. Wide receiver and first-round pick Dez Bryant showed skills this spring, and he could be a force. The Cowboys' depth on the defensive line and at running back adds flexibility to move guys around in case someone gets injured.

And then there's this little nugget.

Since 2000, the Cowboys have produced 13 starters and 13 other players from the draft who have seen significant playing time.

The scouts and personnel department, led by Tom Ciskowski, have helped Jones make the right decisions with the roster, especially in the past three seasons. Recently, splash free-agent signings Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, Ken Hamlin and Zach Thomas haven't panned out.

Smaller signings like Igor Olshansky, Keith Brooking and Gerald Sensabaugh produced quieter results.

"It's expensive to step out here in free agency and grant these guys a third or second contract," Jones said. "But within [the draft] is the best way to go."

When the Cowboys were on top of the NFL universe in the 1990s, they won three titles in four seasons. When they were down in this just-completed decade, Jones watched the New England Patriots win three titles in four years, the Indianapolis Colts get to the Super Bowl twice in the past four seasons and the Pittsburgh Steelers win two Super Bowls titles in five years.

The past five seasons have produced four different Super Bowl winners.

We're not saying the Cowboys are poised for that, but the roster is so much better than in previous years. The coaching staff is more comfortable with the personnel.

And then there's head coach Wade Phillips, who is running this thing from the field and is as comfortable as he's ever been. He's more assertive with this team. The players believe in what he's saying. The owner does too.

"I think certainly at this time of my career, yes," Phillips said of his comfort level. "We feel good about what we're doing. We feel good about the personnel and we have ownership that's been great."

Will it add up to a title? We'll see how it starts out on July 24, the first day of practice.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.