Commentary

Cowboys camp preview: Too many distractions?

Updated: August 18, 2008, 7:34 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Editor's note: These camp previews are up to date as of the start of preseason games. For the latest changes since then, check our updated rankings, projections and profiles.

Dallas Cowboys fans aren't happy. Not only did the NFC's top seed fail to win a playoff game after starting the season 12-1, but it was a team in the same division that won at their place before upending the unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl. That was supposed to be the Cowboys! As a result, Jerry Jones spent money like he was a sailor on a weekend pass, committing more than $70 million on everyone from Terrell Owens to Zach Thomas to Adam Jones.

The first thing the Cowboys did was blame Julius Jones for all the team's problems. OK, so that might be some exaggeration, but not much. Julius Jones is a Seahawk now, and Arkansas' Felix Jones was the first-round draft pick. The Cowboys feel like that's an instant upgrade. Of course, Marion Barber has seemingly been capable of carrying the offensive load by himself for two years, so it will be interesting to see if this actually happens or not.

This team is always in the news in the first place, but taking on the tantalizing Pacman Jones -- oh, excuse me, he's calling himself Adam now -- has overshadowed the news coming from the wide receiver position, only some of it relevant. Owens signed a new four-year contract, was placed in the NFL's reasonable cause drug program because he missed a drug test and received an excused absence from minicamp to deal with personal matters. And what about Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson, are they or aren't they still an item? I can't keep track. It's like fourth on the list of tabloid-type stories for this team.

Dallas Cowboys

A new backup running back and some depth in the defensive backfield highlight the Cowboy changes.

Key Additions
RB Felix Jones
LB Zach Thomas
CB Adam Jones
Key Losses
RB Julius Jones
S Keith Davis
Probable Lineup
QB1 Tony Romo
RB1 Marion Barber
RB2 Felix Jones
WR1 Terrell Owens
WR2 Patrick Crayton
WR3 Terry Glenn
TE1 Jason Witten
K Nick Folk
Preseason Schedule
@ SD Aug. 9, 10 p.m.
@ DEN Aug. 16, 9 p.m.
HOU Aug. 22, 8 p.m.
MIN Aug. 28, 8 p.m.
All times ET

Ultimately, the challenge this team faces is thriving not for much of the regular season but down the stretch. In each of the past two seasons, the Cowboys lost two of their final three games and a winnable playoff game. Training camp is going to be a media circus, but it always is. Ultimately it's not likely to affect the fantasy values of too many players.

What to look for in camp

Key position battles: Tony Romo is one of the top four quarterbacks in most fantasy drafts, and his top running back and wide receiver will also be in demand in the first or second round. Terry Glenn was released making Patrick Crayton a starter and an enticing No. 4 or 5 fantasy receiver. Owens is still the man, though, no matter who he plays with. Expect a big season possibly worthy of the No. 2 wide receiver in fantasy, after Randy Moss.

Fitting in: Felix Jones was the third running back drafted, and it might have come as a surprise to Barber, but all the Cowboys expect this Jones to do is help on third downs and maybe return some kicks. Barber should pick up more carries than the past two seasons. Adam Jones, meanwhile, isn't guaranteed to have his suspension lifted, let alone become a fantasy option anytime soon, but keep an eye on this situation. The Dallas defense is one of the better ones for fantasy, and IDP owners will be interested in DeMarcus Ware and Roy Williams, but Adam Jones could be enticing as well -- if NFL commish Roger Goodell reinstates him.

On the line: A solid offensive line should have no trouble protecting Romo or opening holes for Barber, as left tackle Flozell Adams, a free agent brought back for more than $40 million, and right guard Leonard Davis are mammoth veterans and Pro Bowl quality. Center Andre Gurode is underrated. This is a team strength and, unlike others on the squad, stays out of the news.

The bottom line

While Marion Barber would seem deserving of a starting role and most of the carries, it's also possible the Cowboys have other plans, and rookie Felix Jones could play a larger role than even Julius Jones had. Barber has a brand new seven-year deal, so it would seem unlikely. With so much occuring off the field surrounding the Cowboys, this would be the one situation that could play havoc with fantasy owners, so keep an eye out, even if it's a skeptical one.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer