Jones predicts 10 or 11 new Cowboys
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones vowed Sunday that there will be significant changes despite his franchise ending a 12-season playoff win drought.
While sitting on his luxury bus outside Lucas Oil Stadium at the NFL scouting combine, Jones emphasized that he would not allow the Cowboys to become complacent. He predicted that next season's roster could feature 10 or 11 new players and stressed the need for competition for playing time.
Final Eight Plan
The Cowboys and other teams that reached the divisional round of the playoffs are restricted in free agency by the Final Eight Plan. Here is the NFL's explanation of the limitations:
During the Final League Year, the eight clubs that make the Divisional Playoffs in the previous season have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign unrestricted free agents from other clubs. In general, the four clubs participating in the championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs. They cannot sign any UFAs unless one of theirs is signed by another team.
For the four clubs that lost in the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters. Those four only will be permitted to sign one unrestricted free agent for $5.5 million (estimated) or more in year one of the contract, plus the number of their UFAs who sign with another team. They also can sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.7 (estimated) million in year one of the contract with limitations on the per year increases.
In the case of all final eight teams, the first year salary of UFAs they sign to replace those lost cannot exceed the first year salary of the player lost with limitations on the per year increases.
"We're not caught up in the fact that by some definition we had a good season," said Jones, whose team won the NFC East with an 11-5 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. "We did plan ahead and get some of our key players under contract. But in the NFL, there has got to be change.
"One of the biggest challenges I've got in my role here is to be an agent of change this year. We have got to look for ways to make changes. That's personnel."
Among the rules instituted for the upcoming uncapped season is the Final Eight Plan, which limits the Cowboys -- and other teams that reached the divisional round of the playoffs -- in their ability to sign unrestricted free agents.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said earlier in the week that the Cowboys, whose only unrestricted free agent is reserve offensive guard Montrae Holland, would be opportunistic but would likely wait for the market to settle after the March 5 opening of free agency.
However, Jerry Jones indicated that the Cowboys need to upgrade several positions -- through free agency, the draft or internal competition -- to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The league-imposed financial restrictions would not prevent the Cowboys from accomplishing their offseason goals, he said.
"Without getting into the details of it, we can operate within the budget we have with the Cowboys," Jones said. "We do have a budget. We can operate within that budget and do whatever we want to do."
When Jones gave coach Wade Phillips a two-year contract extension the week after the Cowboys' season ended, he stressed the need for continuity, as Jones did when explaining his decision to retain Phillips after a disappointing 2008 season that ended with a 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with a playoff berth on the line.
On Sunday, Jones said that his desire for continuity doesn't mean that the roster won't undergo significant changes. He cited offensive line as a focal point.
"Vivid in my mind is the Minnesota game," Jones said, referring to the Cowboys' 34-3 loss to the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs. "I want to have the taste in my mouth that we had when we left Philadelphia the year before. I'm thinking positively, but I'm thinking that we have a lot of work to do."
Jones did not deny that a pair of high-priced veterans, offensive tackle Flozell Adams and free safety Ken Hamlin, are among the players who might be released this offseason. Adams and Hamlin have young backups in Doug Free and Alan Ball, respectively, who performed well in stints as starters last season. However, Jones said he would not make any moves for the purpose of saving money.
"It'll be based on skill and based on where they fit this year and where they fit the next few years," Jones said.
When Phillips spoke to reporters this week, he said that the theme of the Cowboys' offseason would be avoiding complacency. Jones hammered home that point Sunday.
"Last year, it was not any fun in the offseason," Jones said. "Everybody was pointing fingers. We were pointing fingers.
"I want some of that right now. I want some people nervous. I want our players nervous."