Drew Bledsoe will be the Cowboys’ eighth starting quarterback since Troy Aikman departed after the 2000 season. The other seven, with the number of games started: 2001 -- Quincy Carter, 8; Ryan Leaf, 3; Anthony Wright, 3; Clint Stoerner, 2; 2002 -- Chad Hutchinson, 9; Quincy Carter, 7; 2003 -- Quincy Carter, 16 (also started one playoff game); 2004 -- Vinny Testaverde, 15; Drew Henson, 1.
Dallas has not won a playoff game since defeating Minnesota in a 1996 wild card game. That was their NFL-record 32nd playoff victory.
Give him the damn ball
Jason Witten broke the Cowboys’ single-season records for tight ends with 87 catches for 980 yards, topping the 68 receptions that Jay Novacek amassed in 1992 and the 793 yards that Doug Cosbie had in 1985.
The Cowboys have played in front of sold-out stadiums in 239 of their last 244 regular-season and postseason games, including 120 consecutive at Texas Stadium.
Arlington, a suburb of Fort Worth, will become the home of the Cowboys beginning in 2009. Voters there agreed to help finance a $650 million retractable-roof stadium that is expected to host a Super Bowl in either 2011 or 2012. The Cowboys have played in Texas Stadium since 1971 when the $35 million facility opened in Irving.
The Prophecy: “The addition of (Julius) Jones will improve the running game.”
The Lie: “The Cowboys seemingly improved the league’s No. 1-rated defense by signing (Marcellus) Wiley.”
— Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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The Cowboys were supposed to be back. Bill Parcells, after all, had delivered a miraculous 10-6 playoff season in his first year in Dallas. But instead, America's Team took a step back last season.
Dallas finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Since winning the franchise's fifth Super Bowl following the 1995 season, the Cowboys are 65-79 with four playoff berths and one playoff victory.
After spending $30 million in signing-bonus money to acquire quarterback Drew Bledsoe, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, guard Marco Rivera and cornerback Anthony Henry in free agency, the Cowboys used six of eight draft picks on defensive players. They now have a power running game with Julius Jones, a bus-driver quarterback in Bledsoe and the ability to play Parcells' favored 3-4 defense.
During the offseason, the Cowboys were transformed into a Parcells-like team for what could be the 64-year-old coach's final season.
"We haven't been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season. That is not acceptable. That is the bottom line," owner Jerry Jones says.
Bledsoe will be the Cowboys' eighth starting quarterback since Troy Aikman retired after the 2000 season.
The Cowboys claim they did not sign Bledsoe to a three-year, $14 million contract to provide a stop-gap until Drew Henson is ready. But Bledsoe hasn't started a playoff game since 1998, was 23-25 as a starter in Buffalo and was sacked 141 times the last three seasons. He refused to play backup to J.P. Losman in Buffalo and was released.
Henson, who spent three seasons in the New York Yankees organization after starting one season at the University of Michigan, was 10-of-18 for 78 yards with one touchdown and one interception last season. He started one game, on Thanksgiving Day, but was pulled in the second half.
In a season when almost nothing went right, the Cowboys appeared to find Emmitt Smith's replacement. Despite missing half the games, Jones rushed for 819 yards and seven touchdowns on 197 carries. He was at his best down the stretch, and he showed his durability by becoming the first Cowboy back to have 30 or more carries in three straight games.
The Cowboys signed veteran Anthony Thomas to back up Jones. Thomas rushed for 1,000 yards in two of his four seasons with the Bears. Rookie Marion Barber III will also be in the mix.
Fullback Richie Anderson was released in late April. Darian Barnes, who started 10 games last season, is his likely replacement.
When tight end Dan Campbell was lost for the season with a sprained right foot on Sept. 27, Jason Witten became the starter. When receiver Terry Glenn went on injured reserve on Oct. 30, Witten became the star. Witten, in only his second season, earned a Pro Bowl berth with a team-high 87 catches for 980 yards and six TDs.
Keyshawn Johnson, acquired from the Bucs in a trade before the start of last season, had 70 catches for a team-leading 981 yards and six touchdowns. He had surgery on the left ankle he fractured in the season finale, but he says he is fully recovered from the injury.
Dallas traded disgruntled receiver Antonio Bryant to Cleveland for Quincy Morgan last season, and Morgan finished with 22 catches for 260 yards in the nine games he played with the Cowboys.
Left guard Larry Allen played more like the vintage Larry Allen than the Larry Allen who landed in Parcells' doghouse in 2003. Allen was named to a ninth Pro Bowl, the most ever by a Cowboys offensive player, and unlike in 2003, this time he deserved it.
Left tackle Flozell Adams did not play as well in 2004. But Adams has been a steady and durable player for the Cowboys since 1998, with his 101 consecutive starts the longest current streak on the team and the 14th-longest active streak in the NFL.
Parcells was not happy with the play on the right side of the line. He tried to replace right guard Andre Gurode for two seasons but had no better option. He does now, having signed Rivera to a five-year, $20 million contract. Rivera has started 99 consecutive regular-season games. He injured his back a week after signing and needed surgery to repair a herniated disc on March 10, but he is expected to be ready.
The Cowboys didn't upgrade at right tackle, however, and are left with Torrin Tucker, Kurt Vollers and Jacob Rogers.
Center Al Johnson never played as a rookie in 2003 after injuring his right knee, but he returned last year and had a solid debut season.
Dallas likely will move to the 3-4 front part time this year and full time next year. It means diminished roles for tackle La'Roi Glover and end Greg Ellis. Parcells says reducing their plays by "15 to 20 percent will improve their effectiveness long term." Glover and Ellis are small for the 3-4, but their presence is big in the locker room and on the field.
Ferguson is a prototypical nosetackle. He signed a five-year, $21.5 million deal, reuniting with Parcells, who as coach of the Jets, selected Ferguson in the seventh round of the '97 draft.
The four defensive ends drafted by the Cowboys add bulk to a front seven that averaged only 261 pounds per starter last season.
Ferguson and Glover will likely share time in the middle. Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Ellis will split time at end on rushing downs, while Ellis and rookie Demarcus Ware are the pass-rush specialists.
The Cowboys parted ways with fan-favorite Dexter Coakley, who, at 5'10", 231 pounds, is ill suited for the 3-4. They drafted Ware (6'4", 251 pounds) and Kevin Burnett (6-foot-2, 239) as replacements. The Saints proposed inside linebacker Dat Nguyen in a trade that would have brought defensive end Darren Howard to the Cowboys, but Dallas balked.
Although he is only 5-foot-11, 238 pounds, Nguyen plays big and has grown into one of Parcells' favorites. Nguyen became the first player to lead the Cowboys in tackles in back-to-back seasons since Ken Norton Jr. in 1992-93.
Bradie James, a fourth-round pick in 2003, is expected to replace Coakley. Al Singleton will compete with Burnett for the other spot.
Pete Hunter, Jacques Reeves, Tyrone Williams and Lance Frazier all started at right corner last season, and none was as good as the corner they replaced, Mario Edwards. Left cornerback Terence Newman didn't play as well as he did as a rookie, and safety Darren Woodson missed the entire season with a back injury. It added up to one of the worst performances by a Dallas secondary in team history.
The Cowboys solved a big problem when they signed Henry to a five-year, $25 million deal. Henry has started 37 games the past three years. He should help take some pressure off Newman, the fifth pick in the 2003 draft. Aaron Glenn, cut by the Texans in April, was signed to be the nickel back.
Roy Williams, who has been to two straight Pro Bowls, will move to strong safety, giving him an opportunity to make plays closer to the line. Lynn Scott, Keith Davis, Clint Finley and sixth-round draft pick Justin Beriault will compete at free safety.
The Cowboys finally found a consistent punter as Mat McBriar had 75 punts for a 42.4-yard average and a 35.1 net. He had no blocked kicks, only seven touchbacks and had 22 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Billy Cundiff, the team's kicker the past three seasons, was dependable inside 40 yards last season, making all 11 attempts. But he was only 9-of-15 from 40-plus yards. The Cowboys wouldn't mind finding some competition for him.
The Cowboys revamped a defense that ranked 16th overall last season. They added size to the front seven in preparation for a move to the 3-4 front and brought in experience to the secondary. They also changed quarterbacks, choosing Bledsoe over Vinny Testaverde. In short, Dallas has been reshaped in Parcells' image for what could be his last season.