NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a half-joking manner, Jerry Jones declared this spring that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense would get better because it couldn’t be any worse.

When you rank dead last in the league in total defense, there’s only one way to go, he figured. Of course, it’s completely possible for the Cowboys to have the worst-ranked defense again and give up more yards than last season’s franchise record, but Jones would rather not view the situation that way.

“I think the defense is much improved, much improved,” Jones said after the preseason finale. “Awareness, the player we’re going to ask to do the job, I think we’re much improved from the team that was on the field the last four games when we ended the season. This is a better defense.”

Jones attempts to muster hope for a defense that lost arguably its three best players from last season with linebacker Sean Lee tearing up his knee, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leaving in free agency and defensive end DeMarcus Ware being released. Plus, Orlando Scandrick will serve a four-game suspension to start the season after performing the best among the Cowboys cornerbacks last season.

The Cowboys certainly upgraded at defensive coordinator by demoting Monte Kiffin, who the game has clearly passed by and promoting Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys have recent evidence that Marinelli is a quality coordinator from his tenure with the Chicago Bears before coming to Dallas last year.

But Marinelli is no miracle worker. Just look at the Detroit Lions defensive rankings from his tenure as head coach: 28th, 32nd and 32nd in yards and 30th, 32nd and 32nd in scoring.

Marinelli needs playmakers to make his scheme work. Where are they on the Dallas defense?

The reality is this defense is in even worse shape than anticipated when training camp opened. They lost rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who they desperately needed to develop as an edge pass-rushing threat, for several weeks due to a broken foot. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain didn’t play a down in the preseason due to injuries, with Melton still working to chip off rust after missing the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL. Defensive end George Selvie is dealing wth soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Cornerback Morris Claiborne sat out the entire preseason -- again -- and will need to take pain-killing injections to play with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Scandrick is suspended four games.

“We know our limitations,” Jones said. “We know our scheme better, and we got players [who] can execute. We’ve got better players, healthier players to execute the scheme.”

That's the hope for the Dallas defense. But it’s definitely not the reality as they get ready for the regular season.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys clearly hoped that Rolando McClain would claim the starting job at middle linebacker.

The fact of the matter is McClain, the twice-retired eighth overall pick of the 2010 draft, might not be ready for such a prominent role as he continues to chip off the rust and work his way into football shape.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has heaped praise on McClain throughout training camp and the preseason, but Jones dialed down the hype after the preseason finale, which McClain started and played two series.

McClain
“I don’t think Rolando is going to be the savior of this team,” Jones said. “We don’t have Sean Lee, but Rolando does have the skill level to come in here and really add to what we can do. But we’re going to need of him. But I don’t want anybody to think I expect him to be Dick Butkus or even Sean Lee. That’s not there.

“You’re a little excited when you see some of the things he does physically, but he hasn’t played for a year and a half. Let’s let him just come in here and when he gets in a game, he may be the fifth guy in or he may be coming in after we’ve had a couple of series, but let’s watch him come in here and let us play. I say that because I don’t want him or anybody else to think that we think he’s the savior of our defense. That’s not the way it is.”

Justin Durant, fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens and McClain have all taken first-team reps at middle linebacker this summer as the Cowboys attempt to replace Lee, who will miss the season with a knee injury. Bruce Carter, Kyle Wilber, Durant and Hitchens have worked with the starters at the outside linebacker spots, with Carter seeing time at both the strong side and weak side.

Asked which linebacker combination will start Week 1, coach Jason Garrett said, “We haven’t made that decision yet.” Jones is braced for it not to include McClain.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is in the final year of his four-year contract.

Garrett
Garrett
He’ll tell you he’s too consumed with today’s to-do list to spend any time thinking about his contract situation and whether he’ll get an extension.

At the same time, Garrett spends a lot of time talking about building a program and how the process of building a team with staying power takes time.

Garrett is 29-27 as a head coach and has missed the playoffs each of his three full seasons as head coach.

For now, Jerry Jones isn’t interested in committing to Garrett beyond this season.

“Well if I said that, I’d be giving him a contract and that’s not how we’re operating here,” Jones said of committing to Garrett beyond this season.

“I have in no way shut that door, but I have already decided that we were going to operate this year with his contract status the way that it is.”

As you would expect, Jones declined to rule out altering Garrett’s contract status during the season.

“I’m just saying as we sit here right now and as we enter the season, then I thought it was in the best interest of the team for us to keep the status of the coaches’ contracts the way that they generally are across the board,” Jones said. “And I haven’t changed that from the way you started training camp.”
ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne missed the entire preseason. Again.

That didn’t work out well last year, when the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft struggled and lost his starting job. But Claiborne isn’t sweating it after sitting out the preseason opener due to tendinitis in his right knee and the last three games due to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, saying the media seems more concerned about it than him.

Claiborne
“I’m not frustrated at all,” Claiborne said. “Where I’m at right now, I’m happy. I’m not upset at missing time or anything. I’m in a good place.”

Claiborne practiced all week. The original plan was for him to play a series or two in the preseason finale to chip off some rust, but executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team opted to sit Claiborne to avoid the risk of re-injuring the shoulder.

Claiborne said another factor was that “it wasn’t worth it” for the medical staff and him to do everything they would have needed to get him ready to play for just a handful of snaps. He anticipates taking a pain-killing injection before next week’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers and probably several games after that.

“I have all my range of motion,” said Claiborne, who sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder during last season’s opener and had offseason surgery to repair it. “The biggest thing is the pain. Can you tolerate the pain? The pain is there and it’s not going anywhere.”

Claiborne’s career trajectory hasn’t gone anywhere in his first two seasons. He plans for that to change this year despite standing on the sideline for the entire preseason again.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The hardest part for teams when they make their final cuts is trimming the last few spots.

For the Dallas Cowboys that will be difficult as well, but for a different reason. They might not have 53 players worth keeping. Seriously.

After Thursday's 27-3 loss to the Denver Broncos left the Cowboys winless in the preseason, coach Jason Garrett talked about the effort he received from players fighting for their lives. And he was right. There was plenty of effort. That's not been an issue. The players have bought into Garrett's "fight" mantra.

The problem is talent, especially on defense.

The Cowboys had their worst defense in franchise history last year and you would be hard-pressed to find enough players to fill out this year's defense to make it better. That's not a good thing going into the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 7.

"We believe we have guys that are worthy of making this football team," Garrett said. "You saw a lot of those guys out there tonight. Guys who made plays and kind of stuck their hand up in the air saying 'Hey, I deserve to be here.' But unfortunately some of those guys aren't going to be able to be with us. So that's what makes it hard."

That's a nice thing for the coach to say, but is it really true?

In the past the Cowboys have cut players who have gone on and had success with other teams. This year it looks like the Cowboys are choosing among different levels of backups.

Of the players on the bubble Thursday, only Kenneth Boatright and Dartwan Bush might have helped their chances. Backup offensive linemen Uche Nwaneri and John Wetzel struggled. You didn't see many plays from linebackers Will Smith or Keith Smith.

At safety Jemea Thomas was claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots on Wednesday and played Thursday. Can he beat out Ryan Smith, who has been with the Cowboys since May, now that Jakar Hamilton has been suspended the first four games of the season?

Those are the kinds of decisions the Cowboys have to make over the next 24 hours.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys will be active in looking to add players before, during and after the final cuts. Last year the Cowboys added four players the first week of the season. It's possible they could add more this season.

The Cowboys named Will McClay the assistant director of player personnel because of his ability to find players off the street to contribute. He's done it with guys like Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Ernie Sims and Eric Frampton.

The Cowboys will study the waiver wire hard. They will look to potentially make trades to bolster the back end of the roster, but not the top-end. This isn't a team that is one player away from a Super Bowl.

The game is trying to find players that are "better than." In other words better than they have right now or could be better than in a few weeks.

The Cowboys might have to find a lot of "better than" players.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has had a pair of one-on-one meetings with Dez Bryant to discuss the Pro Bowl receiver’s potential contract extension, but no deal is imminent.

The parties are working to get a deal done before the regular season begins -- as Bryant will cut off negotiations until next offseason -- but neither side is certain an agreement will be reached over the next week.

[+] EnlargeBryant
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys have a week to sign Dez Bryant to a contract extension before the regular season begins.
“I don’t know,” Jones said. “Certainly I don’t mean to say anything is a given or easy, but I do want what’s in his best interest and I want him to be a long-term player for the Cowboys. He knows that. I’m proud of the progress he’s made and we’ll just see if we can make this work for everybody.”

Bryant, who is due to make $1.78 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal, is encouraged by the individual attention he has received from Jones this week. They met to talk about a contract Tuesday and Wednesday.

It’s extremely rare for Jones to personally meet with a player to discuss a deal without the presence of an agent in the room.

“We have had good visits,” Jones said. “It’s a little different to be talking directly, for me to be talking directly with the player. I know of two that I’ve spent a lot of time directly talking with in some pretty sensitive areas when you’re talking about money. We all understand what that means. One of them Michael Irvin. He asked me to induct him into the Hall of Fame later and Emmitt Smith, he asked me to induct him into the Hall of Fame later. Troy [Aikman] always had Leigh Steinberg there, but we kind of talked straight in there together.

“But Dez and I have been visiting for years, ever since he’s been a Cowboy regarding things, and so it is a fairly unique situation that we’ve talked as much as we’ve talked, made it pretty easy and maybe propitious to be able to talk to him about his contract. That’s why we were actually talking there.”

Bryant has made it clear that he believes he’s one of the NFL’s top five receivers and wants to be paid as such, meaning his annual salary would be in the neighborhood of $12 million.

The Cowboys opened negotiations with a significantly lower number, attempting to use DeSean Jackson's three-year, $24 million deal with the Washington Redskins as a starting point. However, Jones said he has no issue with Bryant’s insistence that he’s one of the league’s highest-paid receivers.

“I will say this, that all Hall of Famers and great players are as competitive with their business as they are on the field,” Jones said. “I understand that. I had hundreds of negotiations and I understand that it is a natural thing to get your back up a little bit when you’re talking about your money.

“...I’m saying that, I understand the competitiveness or the sensation you get when someone won’t agree with you over money. I understand that as well as anybody breathing.”

The Cowboys have the option of using the franchise tag on Bryant the next three offseasons if a long-term deal isn’t reached. But that’d be expensive, starting at more than $12 million next year, rising to 120 percent of that figure the following year and skyrocketing to the quarterback’s franchise-tag number in the third year.

Jones would much prefer to sign Bryant to an extension, perhaps as soon as before the regular season begins. However, Jones said he couldn’t measure how far apart the sides are in the talks.

“You can’t because it takes two to tango,” Jones said. “So you just don’t have any measure of how far you are away from the other person’s expectation or where they will arrive at. You know we’re having good visits, but why wouldn’t we? We do. We’ve had good visits when all of these guys we’re talking about, one of the reasons we have good visits is because we’ve had them in good times and bad times.”
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys' Henry Melton and Morris Claiborne will go into the regular season without having played a preseason snap.

Melton
For Claiborne, that wasn’t a surprise because he of a shoulder injury suffered Aug. 13 in practice against the Oakland Raiders. Melton, however, was expected to see at least a few snaps in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Denver Broncos but worked only in warmups.

“We wanted to get those guys an opportunity if we could to just come out and have a little game action,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve had this situation a number of times in the past where you just make a decision that says, ‘Let’s not play them this situation. Let’s give him 10 more days before he’s in a game and hopefully that will help him.’”

Melton missed the last three preseason games with a groin injury but has always said he would be ready for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. But he has not played since Week 3 last season with the Chicago Bears when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

The knee has not given him any issues in the summer.

Claiborne is used to not playing in the preseason. He has missed every game in the past two preseasons.

“Nothing like the game,” cornerback Brandon Carr said when asked what Claiborne missed by sitting. “Just for him, it’s conditioning and those things, but he’s done a great job this year of just taking care of his body and things he can control as far as that and making sure his footwork is right. I’m confident he’s going to be ready to play. You get to this level it’s more so of a mindset. It’s the mental part of the game that gets people but I think he’s turned that corner as well.”

Observation deck: Dallas Cowboys

August, 28, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mercifully, the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason came to an end on Thursday with their 27-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.

For the first time since 2000 -- and fifth time overall -- the Cowboys did not win a preseason game. Of the four previous winless preseasons, the Cowboys finished above .500 just once, making the playoffs in 1998 with a 10-6 record.

The Cowboys enter the Sept. 7 regular-season opener with low outside expectations in part because of their three straight 8-8 finishes and due to a defense that lacks playmakers and will be counting on role players to play in big-time positions.

The Cowboys were outscored 116-60 in the preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cowboys' fourth preseason game:
  • The Cowboys will go into the San Francisco game with starting defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Morris Claiborne not taking a preseason snap. Melton went through pregame warmups Thursday and was expected to at least see a handful of plays after missing the last two preseason games with a groin injury. Claiborne, who will start with Orlando Scandrick missing the first four games because of a suspension, has not played in a preseason game the last two seasons. A shoulder injury limited his work the last two-plus weeks of the preseason. Cornerback Brandon Carr saw less than 30 snaps in the preseason, including only 12 Thursday, after missing the first two exhibition games following the death of his mother.
  • Justin Durant did not start, so the Cowboys used Rolando McClain at middle linebacker for the first two series. McClain was active in his short time on the field, making three tackles. The Cowboys have attempted to speed up McClain’s learning curve with this defense and his conditioning but both times they gave him first-team work he was unable to finish practice. Has he done enough in the preseason to be a starter? The Cowboys might have to make a projection here with a linebacker who has not played since Nov. 2012 and retired twice since then.
  • The Cowboys will go into the season with their most inexperienced backup quarterback since Tony Romo in 2006 in Brandon Weeden. Starting his second preseason game, Weeden completed seven of 13 passes for 83 yards and an interception. His turnover was the result of a forced throw to Devin Street on a roll out that cornerback Tony Carter was able to pick off, and the Broncos scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Weeden was able to respond with a field goal drive the next time he had the ball, completing two third-down throws and hitting LaRon Byrd with a 26-yard completion while taking a big hit. On third-and-goal he wisely chose to run the ball instead of forcing a pass, making sure the Cowboys got points.
  • Ronald Leary started every game at left guard in 2013 and appears to be the frontrunner to hold the job again this season, but he played the first half Thursday. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who was splitting time with Leary in camp, did not play, getting the same treatment as starting linemen Doug Free, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Leary missed the early part of training camp with a hamstring injury suffered in a conditioning test.
IRVING, Texas -- There are days with the Dallas Cowboys when it just never ends.

Take today for instance.

Jakar Hamilton is suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. That is followed up by the club’s decision to cut 2013 fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb in order to add running back Phillip Tanner to the roster so he can take some carries in tonight’s preseason finale against the Denver Broncos.

Then comes a mesmerizing tale by ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. for "Outside the Lines," and ESPN The Magazine. Some of the story is a rehash of Jones' history as the owner and general manager of the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesThe sniping between Dallas owner Jerry Jones, left, and former coach Jimmy Johnson is alive and well two decades after Johnson left the Cowboys.
But three of the juicier nuggets include a conversation Jones had with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and former college teammate and Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

After the George Strait concert Peterson confided in Jones he wants to play for the Cowboys one day after a friend of his handed Jones a cell phone. Tampering charges have been mentioned, but Jones didn’t initiate the call. If somebody has some explaining to do, it’s Peterson to the Vikings’ fans.

Jones' love of Manziel is not surprising. That he so often talks about a love he spurned by listening to the rest of the draft room on May 8 is surprising. Get over it. Zack Martin was the pick. He has looked like a veteran since the day he walked in the building. Tony Romo is your quarterback.

On the night of the draft, Jones said financially it made no sense to draft Manziel because of the price they paid to keep Romo last offseason. Since then, Jones' love for Manziel has grown and grown.

Maybe Romo doesn’t care what Jones says about Manziel, but on a human level doesn’t he have to think that maybe Jones isn’t fully in his corner?

Jones has a hard time letting things go, which was also evidenced in the piece with his comments regarding Johnson.

I was not around for the Jimmy Johnson Era. There was a clear delineation between Jerry guys and Jimmy guys, from what I’m told, and Jones still has his true loyalties to those people even if Johnson has not been around since the second Super Bowl win in the 1990s.

The sniping between Jones and Johnson remains alive and well. Johnson constantly tweaks Jones backhandedly about his football acumen. Jones said in the piece that Johnson has "but two Super Bowl rings," and won’t win another. Jones said he has the chance to win five more without Johnson.

From the sounds of it Johnson will never land in the Ring of Honor. Here’s why:

"Disloyalty ... I couldn't handle the disloyalty. Whether it was right or not, by every measurement you can go, I had paid so many times a higher price to get to be there than he had paid, it was unbelievable. ... By any way you wanna measure it, wear and tear, pain, worry, butt kickin', the criticism -- everything in the book!"

It’s only the middle of the afternoon. The Cowboys play their final preseason game against the Denver Broncos at 7 p.m at AT&T Stadium.

What else will today bring?

Dallas Cowboys waive B.W. Webb

August, 28, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to make room for Phillip Tanner on the roster for tonight’s preseason finale against the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys waived cornerback B.W. Webb.

Webb
A fourth-round pick last year, Webb suffered a hip flexor injury that would prevent him from playing in the final two preseason games. Webb was active for 15 games as a rookie and had 13 tackles and one pass breakup but never got comfortable on the field. He had a so-so training camp and was outplayed by undrafted rookie Tyler Patmon.

With Webb gone and Orlando Scandrick suspended the first four games of the regular season, the Cowboys will likely go with rookies Patmon and Terrance Mitchell, a seventh-round pick, as their fourth and fifth cornerbacks behind Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore.

The Cowboys claimed cornerback Jemea Thomas off waivers from the New England Patriots on Wednesday.

With injuries to Joseph Randle (oblique) and Ryan Williams (cramping) the Cowboys were left with one tailback they would play tonight against the Denver Broncos -- DJ Adams. The Cowboys will not use starter DeMarco Murray or Lance Dunbar, necessitating the addition of Tanner, who played three years for the team and was recently cut by the Indianapolis Colts.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- There are typically two sure things when Jerry Jones delivers his speech at the Dallas Cowboys' annual kickoff luncheon.

He’ll puff out his chest and pump up his team. And he’ll make at least one confusing comment or reference that causes a lot of head-scratching in the audience.

Well, Jerry went 1-for-2 on Wednesday. He certainly didn’t make any bold predictions for this season, stressing how the Cowboys are facing an “uphill battle” with “our backs against the wall.” Those comments were clear as could be. His reference to an old Ray Charles song, um, really wasn’t.

“It basically said without the music and without his great voice was, how do you get if them that gets is them that’s got?” Jones said.

Huh? What the heck does that mean? Well, it makes perfect sense when you read or listen to the lyrics of “Them That Got.”

Jerry, the proud owner of a glitzy, glamorous franchise recently valued by Forbes at $3.2 billion, is basically saying that the Cowboys are football broke. He’s absolutely right, and the contradiction between the state of the Cowboys financially vs. on the football field pretty much sums up Jerry in a nutshell.

He’s among the best, if not the best, of the businessmen in the NFL. He's among the worst, if not the worst, of the general managers in the NFL.

Owner Jerry has done a remarkable job maximizing the marketing potential of the America’s Team history. The man just landed a multimillion-dollar deal from a swanky Swiss watchmaker whose head honcho wouldn’t know a touchdown from a fourth down because the Cowboys are the most recognizable brand in American sports. The combination of those five Super Bowls from so long ago and Jerry’s business savvy made building a $1.2 billion football palace possible, and prompted suburban Frisco to pay $115 million for the right to build the Cowboys a state-of-the-art practice facility. The brand is the biggest reason the Cowboys consistently produce big TV ratings.

But none of that will help GM Jerry’s flawed team end a four-year playoff drought or win a playoff game for only the second time since The Triplets’ time. Not with a defense whose rebuilding process isn’t any further along than the new practice facility, which just had a groundbreaking ceremony last week.

The good news is Jerry seems to get this, finally. The good ol’ days can’t help the Cowboys win in this decade.

As Ray Charles would say, this crop of Cowboys ain’t got nothin’ yet. On the field, the Cowboys haven’t been one of them that got for years.

The question is, now that Jerry’s clear about that, what will he do to change his franchise’s football fate?
IRVING, Texas -- By Saturday the Dallas Cowboys have to make their final cut to 53 players. Tonight's preseason finale against the Denver Broncos represents the last chance for many players to make a favorable impression.

And that might not even be good enough.

The Cowboys will look for help on the waiver wire and through potential trades over the weekend so the 53 players settled on Saturday might not be the same players on Sunday or Monday or even Tuesday.

But coach Jason Garrett insists players can still make the team tonight.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Dustin Vaughan
AP Photo/Matt StrasenCan Dustin Vaughan do enough to make the Cowboys want to keep three quarterbacks?
"Fourth preseason games, they were my life," Garrett said. "Guys all over the league, fighting for this opportunity."

Many of the spots on the Cowboys' roster are taken. A handful will be up for debate.

Who can make a difference tonight?

Dustin Vaughan: The undrafted quarterback from West Texas A&M can make the Cowboys think longer and harder about keeping a third quarterback with a solid performance. If he can lead the Cowboys on multiple scoring drives while making good decisions, he might be too valuable to expose to the waiver wire. With so many roster spots needed elsewhere keeping a third quarterback is a little bit of a luxury, but the Cowboys might view Vaughan as a quarterback worth developing without exposing him to the waiver process.

Dartwan Bush, Kenneth Boatright, Caesar Rayford: There are jobs to be had on the Cowboys' defensive line, especially at defensive end. Anthony Spencer will be on the active roster to start the season, but won't play Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. DeMarcus Lawrence will have to be on the roster at least until Tuesday to be eligible for short-term injured reserve with his broken foot.

George Selvie has an ailing right shoulder. Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey are locks. But who else?

Bush earned a late invite to training camp after making a favorable impression in a rookie minicamp. Boatright was signed during camp. They have shown some flashes of pass rush. Rayford is a worker and will not quit. There might be room for only one of these guys at Saturday's deadline.

Tyler Clutts: Do the Cowboys keep a fullback or not? It's Clutts' job to win. Garrett has talked about the need for a fullback to be a physical team. Maybe the team looks outside the building for that guy, but Clutts has some versatility and can play special teams.

Will Smith, Keith Smith: Do the Cowboys keep a seventh linebacker? Will Smith is a draft pick, so he gets the edge, but even if they make the team Saturday, the Cowboys will look at the waiver wire. Remember last year they added Kyle Bosworth after the cuts.

Terrance Mitchell, Jemea Thomas: The seventh-round pick earned praise from coaches for his willingness to work and always being around the ball. He also seemed to be around a lot of penalty flags. With Orlando Scandrick gone for the first four games because of a suspension, maybe the Cowboys go heavier than expected at corner. For now Mitchell is fighting for a spot with B.W. Webb and Tyler Patmon. Thomas was claimed off waivers Wednesday from the New England Patriots and will play without the benefit of a practice. Is he an emergency pickup? My gut says no. The Cowboys liked him in the draft. If he can show anything he might be able to snag one of the final defensive back jobs.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne will "probably not" play in the team's Thursday preseason finale, executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said.

Claiborne
This would mark the second consecutive preseason that Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, did not play a down. The Cowboys coaches hoped to get him some action Thursday against the Denver Broncos after Claiborne missed one game with knee tendinitis and the last two due to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.

"Just not worth the risk to go backwards," Jones said after the team's kickoff luncheon. "You know those shoulder injuries; they get sore on you quickly. After really going over it with our trainers and doctors, probably the better decision here is to let him get fully healed and then put him out there."

Claiborne returned to practice this week, saying Tuesday that he's ready for game action despite still feeling soreness in the shoulder.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the team's other starter who has yet to play this preseason, is expected to get some snaps against the Broncos.

Melton, whose final season with the Chicago Bears ended early due to a torn ACL suffered in September, missed the last two weeks because of a strained groin. Jones said Melton indicated he wanted to play in the preseason finale to chip off some rust before the regular season begins.

"He's ready to go and I think he just wants the peace of mind that he's going to feel good when he starts against the 49ers," Jones said.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the eternal optimist, was pragmatic when he addressed the crowd at the team’s kickoff luncheon at AT&T Stadium that benefits the Happy Hill Farm.

Instead of alluding to possible Super Bowl dreams, Jones told the players in his address to the crowd, that “our back's up against the wall.”

Coming off three straight 8-8 seasons and winless so far in the preseason, the Cowboys' expectations have not been this low since the team went through three straight 5-11 seasons in 2000-02. But Jones kept thinking a Super Bowl was just around the corner.

“You know that we have an uphill battle this year,” Jones said, “and we do have an uphill battle. But most of you had an uphill battle when you came to camp. Most of you did. And some of you have absolutely rose to the occasion.”

But will it be enough to change the fortunes and expectations?

At the luncheon, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray were named the 2013 offensive MVPs, while Barry Church and Dwayne Harris took home to defensive and special teams’ honors. Church was officially named as the Cowboys’ Ed Block Courage Award winner for his efforts last season after coming back from a torn Achilles.

Danny White was named the Legends Award winner.

With the preseason finale Thursday against the Denver Broncos, Wednesday’s luncheon was a reminder regular-season football is not far off.

“This is always a fun day but it symbolizes football is starting up for real,” tight end Jason Witten said. “There’s always a lot of excitement when you come to this luncheon.”

But this time Jones was more than willing to temper the expectations.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones met Tuesday at the club’s Valley Ranch training complex to discuss the receiver’s contract situation, two sources said.

Bryant
Bryant
The two also spoke briefly in the locker room after Saturday’s preseason game about the prospect of getting a deal done before the start of the regular season on Sept. 7. Bryant has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to discuss a new contract once the season begins.

"Gotta respect it," said Cowboys vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones. "He’s half of the deal. You’ve got to have him to have the deal. Obviously, we respect [the deadline]. He wants to concentrate on the season. If we don’t get it done before the season starts, we’ll get it done after the season, if that’s when he wants to do it. We’re not going to be worried about it one way or the other."

Bryant and the Cowboys have been discussing a long-term deal for several months, but have been unable to reach an agreement.

Bryant, who caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns, considers himself a top-5 NFL receiver and wants to be paid like one. Those players earn about $12 million per season. The Cowboys view him more as a top-10 receiver and would like to pay him in the $8-10 million range.

They have often compared him to DeSean Jackson, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal with Washington in the offseason.

The sources said Bryant and Jones had an amicable meeting Tuesday in which Jones reiterated to Bryant how much he wants him to be with the Cowboys long-term.

"We’re working hard," Stephen Jones said. "Oh, I’m optimistic that eventually we get something done. Obviously, we think the world of Dez, and that’s what we want and he wants that, so just got to work hard at it."

After the Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith to an eight-year, $98 million contract extension during training camp, the NFLPA reportedly looked into the negotiations because the Cowboys circumvented Smith’s agent and persuaded Smith to agree to a deal that would keep him tied to the Cowboys until the 2023 season.

Right now, one source said the biggest impediment to getting a deal done is the amount of guaranteed money.

If the sides don’t reach an agreement, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on him and pay Bryant $12.3 million next season.

-- Tim MacMahon contributed to this report

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