DeMarcus Ware retired in March. On Monday, Ware officially retired as a Dallas Cowboy, signing a ceremonial contract with the team that selected him in the first round in 2005.

In his nine years, Ware became the franchise leader in sacks (117), was named to the Pro Bowl seven straight seasons (2006-12) and led the NFL in sacks twice, including 20 in 2008.

"This was a lifetime opportunity as a kid," Ware said at a news conference, flanked by owner and general manager Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett. "You don't think about that when you're sitting in the backyard playing for America's Team. Yeah, you play for America's Team, but you've etched yourself in the star's history and that means something to me."

DeMarcus WareDonald Miralle/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware said Monday, when he retired as a Cowboy, how special it was to wear the star.

Ware spent his final three seasons with the Denver Broncos, winning Super Bowl 50, but seriously considered returning to the Cowboys before free agency began in March.

"I contemplated, do I really want to put the pads on?" said Ware, who turns 35 in July. "You can always have the passion for the game, but your body and having great health after football was more important to me when I started to think about my 6-year-old son, my little 9-year-old daughter. That was the most important thing for me, [but] it was hard, I'm going to let you know right now."

Jerry Jones called Ware the "perfect player." Garrett called Ware a "special guy."

Ware retires with 138.5 sacks, which is eighth in NFL history. All six of the retired players ahead of Ware on the list have been selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"They're going to give him a Hall of Fame jacket in five years, I know that," Garrett said.

Cowboys need to find playmakers at safety

April, 24, 2017
Apr 24
1:00
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Marcus WilliamsRuss Isabella/USA Today SportsSafety Marcus Williams had five interceptions in each of his last two seasons at Utah.

The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.

SAFETY

What they have: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Robert Blanton, Jameill Showers

What they need: The Cowboys lost Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox to free agency. Church recorded four straight 100-tackle seasons and played 707 snaps last season despite missing four games with a fractured forearm. Wilcox started in Church’s absence and played more than 500 snaps as a valuable part of the sub packages.

Heath is currently projected as the starter opposite Jones. He had his best game in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, with an interception and a sack of Aaron Rodgers. Jones was solid in his first year as a full-time safety but has to do a better job of taking the ball away.

If the Cowboys defense is to improve, as a team they must do a better job of taking the ball away. Their secondary has not shown the ability to do that. Jones has one interception in two seasons. Heath led the Cowboys in picks in 2015 with two. The cornerbacks don’t have a lot of takeaways either.

This draft has a strong group of safeties where the Cowboys could get into the middle rounds and still find some help, and not just because their depth, like Frazier, is untested.

Best fit: Marcus Williams, Utah. Church led the Cowboys in interceptions last season with two. That’s it. Williams had five interceptions in each of his final two seasons at Utah. Williams has the range to go and get the ball from sideline to sideline. Pairing him with Jones would give the Cowboys a pair of athletic safeties to help their cornerbacks, which will have a new look with the free-agent losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.

Late-round possibilities: Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech; Tedric Thompson, Colorado. There are players that just seem to have the ball find them. Woods is one of those types. He had 14 career interceptions in college. Last season he had 89 tackles, 11 pass deflections and five interceptions. Thompson has similar playmaking skills. He had seven interceptions last year, but he doesn't take the best angle on tackles.

Feeling a draft: It’s breezy at this position. The Cowboys have numbers at the position, but Jones is the only one with meaningful experience at the spot. Heath started nine games as an undrafted rookie in 2013 but only one game since. Wilcox was the last safety the Cowboys drafted in the third round or earlier when they took him in 2013. Finding a playmaker in the secondary is a must for the Cowboys.

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole BeasleyPhoto by Matthew Visinsky/Icon SportswireThe Cowboys like their group at wide receiver with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley.

The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.

WIDE RECEIVER

What they have: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Andy Jones, Lucky Whitehead, Quincy McDuffie, Uzoma Nwachkuwu, Shaq Evans

What they need: Bryant has missed games the last two seasons with leg injuries (foot and knee). He turns 29 in November, and while there is no reason to think the production will fall off, there has to be at least a little concern.

When he is right, Bryant remains one of the NFL’s best playmakers. This is a big offseason for him and Dak Prescott to work on their chemistry and take the next step.

Williams returning as a free agent with a four-year, $17 million deal was something of a surprise. The Cowboys felt he would go elsewhere but jumped at the chance to keep him. He can run all day and doesn’t miss games or practices. He makes plays in key moments, even if people just want to remember a couple of miscues.

Beasley had his best season in 2016 and quickly developed a rapport with Prescott as a security blanket. Butler re-signed on a one-year deal before Williams returned to the Cowboys. He has a big frame but needs to add consistency.

The Cowboys have a good mix of speed and quickness in this group, but you can always add speed and quickness. Generally speaking, they like their receivers to be bigger on the outside to handle the physical play and fight through coverages. Beasley is among the best slot receivers because his quickness at the line makes him a tough cover.

If they could find a receiver with solid return skills as an upgrade over Whitehead, that could be an area to explore.

Best fit: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Southern Cal. He was among the Cowboys’ national visitors to The Star. He won’t wow you with speed and separation, but he can make the difficult catches and is tough. While his production dropped from 2015, he still managed to get to the end zone 10 times in 2016. An interesting note the Cowboys will like: he broke his hand in 2015 and didn’t miss a game.

Late-round possibilities: Mississippi State’s Fred Ross, Baylor’s KD Cannon, North Carolina’s Mack Hollins. Ross was Dak Prescott’s favorite target at Mississippi State, so why not get the band back together? While some Baylor receivers have struggled to adapt to the NFL, Williams has been productive for the Cowboys, and Cannon has similar traits. Hollins is big (6-foot-4) and can play some special teams, which is normally a must for the final few roster spots.

Feeling a draft: This isn’t a "need" position, but the Cowboys could be looking beyond 2017 to develop a receiver. If the right guy falls to them in the early rounds, then maybe they would take a chance, but this looks like a Day 3-only type of selection.

Jerry Jones has made it clear: He wants a war daddy for the Dallas Cowboys defense.

For those not familiar with the term, he wants a pass-rusher’s pass-rusher, a guy who requires every offense know where he is on every snap of the ball. For nine years, the Cowboys had a war daddy in DeMarcus Ware. From 2005 to 2013, he put up a franchise-record 117 sacks. He led the NFL in sacks twice, with 20 in 2008 and 15.5 in 2010. He had at least 10 sacks a season in 2006-12.

Every offense knew where No. 94 was on each snap.

Since Ware’s departure, the Cowboys have not had a player record more than eight sacks in a season (DeMarcus Lawrence, 2015). Jeremy Mincey led the Cowboys with six sacks in 2014. Benson Mayowa led them in sacks last season with six. The last time the team leader had fewer than six sacks in a season came in 1963, when Bob Lilly had five.

As great as Ware became, however, he was not a war daddy when he showed up as the 11th pick in the 2005 draft. Going into the final two games of his rookie season, he had four sacks. In the final two games, he recorded another four sacks, including three in Week 16 against Carolina.

If the Cowboys draft a pass-rusher with the 28th pick in the first round, there will be high expectations. Perhaps too high for any player picked late in the first round.

That’s what happens at any position for the Cowboys, but especially this season when pass rush is such a focus.

What can be expected of a first-round pass-rusher?

Since 2012, some 24 pass-rushers, either 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers, have been selected in the first round. Only seven had six or more sacks as a rookie, led by Joey Bosa, the third overall pick a year ago, who had 10.5 for San Diego.

Leonard Floyd, drafted ninth overall by Chicago last year, had seven sacks. DeForest Buckner was the seventh overall pick by San Francisco as a 3-4 defensive end and had six sacks. But they were top-10 picks.

The last time a player selected 20th or lower in the first round had at least six sacks as a rookie came in 2012, when Chandler Jones (No. 21, New England) and Whitney Mercilus (No. 26, Houston) had six apiece. The last pass-rusher picked 20th or lower in the first round to reach double digits in sacks was Clay Matthews, No. 26 overall by Green Bay, who had 10 in 2009.

Why does it take pass rushers time to adapt?

DeMarcus WareAP Photo/James D. SmithFrom 2005 to 2013, DeMarcus Ware put up a Cowboys-record 117 sacks and led the league twice.

“When you’re looking at them in college, you have to look at — say a kid has 15 sacks, well where did those 15 sacks come [from]? Who were they playing against? Was it 1-AA talent? Was it against a freshman offensive tackle at a major college?” Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said. “There are so many different factors as to why he was productive in college that you think will sometimes transfer over. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But you have to see where his production was accumulated. Again, maybe against an inferior opponent or an inferior player on a better team.”

In 2015, Atlanta made Vic Beasley the eighth overall pick in the draft out of Clemson. He had four sacks as a rookie, and some questioned whether he would ever live up to his draft status. In 2016, he led the NFL with 15.5 sacks.

In college, pass-rushers can get away with one move, generally speed off the edge. It works well enough to where they don’t develop other moves or counters to offensive linemen.

Against NFL offensive tackles, one-trick wonders get swallowed up. If they can’t develop a counter or other moves, they are left running in place.

“I think on both sides, O-line and D-line as well, development is delayed a little bit more now,” Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Different rules. Different practice rules. Different, not the same ability and opportunities to be aggressive with contact as it used to be. That’s going to take time. For us, the situation with Vic Beasley, I really think he turned the corner literally and figuratively speaking because he did get up and around the corner very well this year. ... I think as they get to know the nuances of pass rush, I think that’s really good.”

The Cowboys had 10 pass-rushers at The Star among their visitors leading up to the draft. They had big-school, big-conference, big-production players, like Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt and UCLA’s Takk McKinley. They had small-school, small-conference, big-production players like Ohio’s Tarell Basham, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon and Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers. They had bigger pass-rushers, like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, and smaller pass-rushers, like Missouri’s Charles Harris and Houston’s Tyus Bowser.

Perhaps one might be the war daddy Jones craves.

The odds of that happening in 2017, however, aren’t very high.

Roger StaubachGeorge Long/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys drafted Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach out of Navy in the 10th round of the 1964 NFL draft.

The Dallas Cowboys have been drafting players since 1961. Here’s a look at the best draft picks by position for the Cowboys:

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Roger Staubach, 10th round, 1964, Navy: The other obvious selection is Troy Aikman, the No. 1 overall pick in 1989 who won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Staubach won two Super Bowls but the Cowboys showed tremendous foresight in taking him in the 10th round, knowing he had to fulfill Navy requirements before he would be eligible to play.

Running back: Emmitt Smith, first round, 1990, Florida: He's the NFL's all-time leading rusher, which is why he gets the nod over fellow Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, the No. 2 overall pick in 1977. Jimmy Johnson preferred James Francis but had to settle for Smith, whose rushing record might never be broken.

Wide receiver: Michael Irvin, first round, 1988, Miami: The last of Tom Landry's first-round picks. He was the heart and soul of the Cowboys' 1990s dynasty. Picking Irving over Bob Hayes (seventh round, 1964) is a difficult decision. Both are in the Hall of Fame, and Hayes is credited with changing the game with his speed.

Tight end: Jason Witten, third round, 2003, Tennessee: He is the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and should pass Irvin in yards early this season. He has been selected for 10 Pro Bowls. He has missed one game in his career.

Tackle: Rayfield Wright, seventh round, 1967, Fort Valley State: He was a basketball player in college with one year of football experience when the Cowboys selected him. He played some defensive end and tight end before the Cowboys settled him in at tackle, where he became a Hall of Famer after earning All-Pro honors four times and Pro Bowl honors six times.

Guard: Larry Allen, second round, 1994, Sonoma State: Some put him in the conversation as the best offensive lineman to play. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl pick and seven-time Pro Bowler. He played every position on the line except center. In 2013 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Center: Mark Stepnoski, third round, 1989, Pittsburgh: In a few years Travis Frederick, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl the last three years and was named an All Pro in 2016, might occupy this spot, but Stepnoski helped anchor a line of two Super Bowl winners that opened holes for Smith and gave Aikman and Irvin time to connect in the passing game.

DEFENSE

End: DeMarcus Ware, first round, 2005, Troy: He was technically an outside linebacker but in reality his No. 1 task was to rush the passer, which qualifies him for this spot. He became the franchise's all-time leader with 117 sacks. He was named to the Pro Bowl each year from 2007-12 and should call the Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame home now that his career is over.

Tackle: Bob Lilly, first round, 1961, TCU; Randy White, first round, 1975, Maryland: How do you pick between Mr. Cowboy and the Manster? You don't. Lilly was the Cowboys' first draft pick and all he did was earn 11 Pro Bowl berths, seven All-Pro honors and help the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl. It took the Cowboys a little time to find White's home on the line but he was a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All Pro. He was the co-MVP of Super Bowl XII.

Linebacker: Lee Roy Jordan, first round, 1963, Alabama: For 14 years he anchored the Cowboys' Doomsday defense. He did the dirty work for a defense that was among the NFL's best for years and was named to the Pro Bowl five times as well as earning All-Pro honors twice. He was added to the Ring of Honor in 1989.

Cornerback: Mel Renfro, second round, 1964, Oregon: He came to the Cowboy as a running back but moved to defensive back and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons. The first six came as a free safety, the last four at cornerback. He holds the team record with 52 interceptions and was named an All Pro four times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Safety: Darren Woodson, second round, 1992, Arizona State: A linebacker in college, Woodson made a seamless transition to safety and is the Cowboys' all-time leader in tackles. Because of the offensive success the Cowboys had in the 1990s, Woodson is overlooked but he was able to cover receivers, tight ends and running backs as effectively as any safety in his generation.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: Nick Folk, sixth round, 2007, Arizona: He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2007 when he made 26 of 31 attempts. He was better in his second season (20 of 22) but injuries hurt him in 2009 and led to his release.

Punter: Danny White, third round, 1974, Arizona State: Talk about roster flexibility. He was a terrific quarterback, helping the Cowboys to three straight NFC title games, but he also averaged 40.2 yards per punt.

The Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots are more necessary to fill than others.

RUNNING BACK

What they have: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Keith Smith, Rod Smith

Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas CowboysTom Pennington/Getty ImagesEzekiel Elliott may get an even bigger workload for the Cowboys in 2017.

What they need: With Elliott, the Cowboys have a bellcow running back capable of handling 20-plus carries each week and being a force in the pass game as well. McFadden is the ultimate insurance policy and can also work as a third-down back. Two years ago he was fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards.

Morris is a better back with the more carries he gets and that won’t happen unless there is injury. He is not a reliable pass catcher either. He could become trade bait over the summer should another team need a veteran fit.

Keith Smith and Rod Smith split the fullback duties early last year before Keith Smith became the full-timer. He is a solid lead blocker. Rod Smith can do more with the ball in his hands. Both players can be core special-teamers.

What’s missing? Not much, honestly. They lost Lance Dunbar in free agency and he is more of a change-of-pace back, which is what they lack right now. Do the Cowboys use draft capital on a runner who would not be a lock to make the roster or be third on the depth chart at best and a possible gameday inactive?

The Cowboys were not afraid to give Elliott a lot of work last year and his work this year could increase, especially as a third-down back. Too often he came off the field in favor of Dunbar. Let Elliott’s 83-yard screen reception for a touchdown stand as a sign of the big-play element he can bring to the pass game.

Best fit: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma. To be clear, the Cowboys will not pick Mixon. I’m not sure he would be on their draft board at all, but skill-wise there is no doubt he fits what the Cowboys like to do with their runners. He can get to the second level in a hurry and he is skilled as a pass catcher as well. He scored 15 touchdowns last season. But again, to be clear, he will not be a Cowboy.

Late-round possibilities: San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, North Carolina’s T.J. Logan, North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen. Pumphrey was productive over his career, breaking a lot of Marshall Faulk’s records. He is small (180 pounds) but doesn’t seem to take a lot of big hits. Logan can be an impactful return man, which is something the Cowboys want out of their backup runners. He is also pretty adept out of the backfield as a pass catcher. Cohen plays like he is in a video game. He can start and stop with ease. He makes people miss. It will take a vision from a coaching staff to find the right way to use him.

Feeling a draft: This is a deep running back group but the Cowboys won’t take a look at a runner in the first two days of the draft and they might way until late in the third day. They had the perfect back to develop last year in Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick, but they lost him to waivers when they made room for McFadden off the non-football injury list. It’s a move they regret at the moment, but they can find a back to help them on the third day who can offer the same potential as Jackson.

How does NFL Nation view Cowboys in 2017?

April, 21, 2017
Apr 21
12:45
PM ET

FRISCO, Texas – By now you have read every morsel about the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and gone through the predictions sure to go wrong by me and countless others.

If you take any of these predictions seriously then you need to add some perspective. There hasn’t been a draft. There hasn’t been a training camp. There haven’t been any preseason games. And even after we’ve been able to sort through the draft, camp and the preseason games, I would urge you not to take the prognostications that come out before Week 1 of the regular season too seriously either.

This just in: None of us knows how the season will play out whether it’s April or September. Just view them as an exercise in fun and a way to poke us when we are completely wrong.

AP Photo/Michael AinsworthDak Prescott and the Cowboys went 3-3 in the NFC East in 2016.

About 30 minutes after the schedule was released Thursday, I went through each Cowboys game and came to the conclusion that they would finish 10-6. Some of you said I was spot on. Others said I was much too low. Others said I was too high.

So how do the other NFL Nation reporters see the Cowboys?

When you go through the pages of the 13 other opponents the Cowboys face this year, they magically came up with the same record as me: 10-6.

Four of the losses will come in the NFC East. Eagles reporter Tim McManus had Philadelphia pulling off the sweep. Giants reporter Jordan Ranaan and Redskins reporter John Keim predicted season splits, although Keim had Washington winning at AT&T Stadium and the Cowboys winning at FedEx Field.

The other two losses came at the Denver Broncos in Week 2 and at the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.

Vaughn McClure, who covers the Falcons, had the Cowboys winning at Atlanta, which was something of a surprise. Rob Demovsky, who covers the Packers, had the Cowboys winning the playoff rematch at AT&T Stadium in Week 5.

Our selections were made independent of each other, so the mathematics of picking all of these games doesn’t work, but, again, it’s all in fun.

Here is something to think about: Of the 13 opponents, the Cowboys will face only one with a losing record, according to our April predictions and that is the San Francisco 49ers, whom Nick Wagoner gave a 6-10 finish. Aldon Gonzalez had the Los Angeles Rams finishing with an 8-8 record. Every other team was 9-7 or better, including four teams with 11-5 records.

The Cowboys have a tough schedule and a rough close to the season. Maybe I should’ve gone 9-7 instead.

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Stephen A. Smith needles Cowboys fan Will Cain over Dallas' schedule against competitive teams.

As if Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants in the opening week's Sunday night game didn’t have enough juice, now it has more.

Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant and Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins threw gasoline on the fire Friday with some Twitter trash talk. Responding to a February story in which Jenkins explained how he limited Bryant to two catches for 18 yards and a fumble in two games last year -- both Cowboys losses -- the receiver said he will “embarrass him” this year.

The Giants and Cowboys meet in Week 1 at AT&T Stadium and in Week 13 in New Jersey.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsWith Janoris Jenkins blanketing him, Dez Bryant fumbles on his only reception during last season's Week 14 meeting between the Giants and Cowboys.

Bryant tweeted: “Bra they play cover 5 damn near the whole time... put his ass 1 on 1 the whole game.. I will embarrass him.. spagnuolo know”

Cover 5 is a zone defense. Steve Spagnuolo is the Giants defensive coordinator.

Bryant later removed the tweet and tried to reverse course.

But that didn’t stop the never-shy Jenkins from responding.

It’s all just Twitter fingers and means nothing at this point. The Giants and Cowboys were already an intense divisional rivalry.

That doesn’t mean Bryant and Jenkins won’t have a little extra motivation in the season opener. Both Pro Bowl players will want to prove their point by showing they’re the better player on the field.

It should make for an interesting season. The NFC East is not short on rivalries, with Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. having no love for Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.

Jenkins now has his fair share of rivals as well. He has four games against Bryant and new Redskins wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Jenkins also had a Twitter tiff with Pryor after they matched up last season, when Pryor was with the Cleveland Browns.

The Giants and Redskins play on Thanksgiving night and again in Week 17.

This should keep things interesting.

Kevin KingOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington cornerback Kevin King picked off two passes last season.

The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week, we're taking a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.

CORNERBACK

What they have: Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Leon McFadden, Jeremiah McKinnon, Duke Thomas, Sammy Seamster.

What they need: The Cowboys watched Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne leave via free agency and signed Carroll to a three-year deal worth $10 million. He had his best season a year ago in Philadelphia, starting all 16 games for the first time in his career.

Scandrick should be better two years removed from tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee, an injury that cost him the 2015 season. Brown was a major find as a sixth-round pick last year. He showed he was unafraid of the moment.

But the Cowboys need more. Carroll and Scandrick are both 30.

In the lead-up to the draft, the Cowboys had 11 cornerbacks among their allotted 30 national visitors. The Cowboys do not use these visits as window dressing. From Kevin King to Fabian Moreau to Cordrea Tankersley, the Cowboys have looked at all kinds of corners.

Carr had just one interception in his final three seasons with the Cowboys, but his value was in his availability. He did not miss a game in his five-year run with the club. Claiborne never played a full season in his five years, but was having his best season last year before a groin injury kept him out for the final nine games.

Claiborne was the Cowboys’ most recent first-round selection. They moved up to No. 6 overall to take him in 2012 and it just didn’t pan out. It should shock nobody to see the Cowboys take a cornerback at No. 28 this year.

Best fit: Kevin King, Washington. At the start of the draft process his teammate, Sidney Jones, drew more attention than King, but as the process winds down, King is finding himself as a first-round lock. He has good size (6-3) and is aggressive. He can make tough plays and has good body control. He led Washington with 15 pass deflections and picked off two passes. He plays with an attitude, and that’s something the secondary needs.

Late-round possibilities: UCF’s Shaq Griffin and Oregon State’s Treston Decoud were among the Cowboys’ national visitors leading up to the draft. Griffin had four of his seven career interceptions last season. He is a gifted athlete, but does not seem to have the best instincts. Decoud had a well-traveled college career before ending up at Oregon State. He had two interceptions last year and is long, but needs to do a better job with his technique.

Feeling a draft: The question isn’t whether the Cowboys will draft one cornerback, it’s whether they will draft two cornerbacks. The last time they took two corners in the same year was 2009, but those selections came in the fifth and seventh rounds. In 2008, they selected Mike Jenkins in the first round and Scandrick in the fifth round.

FRISCO, Texas -- The game, more than anything else, is about the quarterback these days.

We saw that last season when Dak Prescott replaced an injured Tony Romo and was eventually named Rookie of the Year after leading the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Just as we saw it in 2015, when the Cowboys used four quarterbacks -- none of them played well -- and went 4-12.

The Cowboys finished with the NFC's best record in 2016 because Prescott consistently played well against the league's top quarterbacks. He must do it again, especially late in the schedule, for Dallas to post double-digit wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995 and '96.

When Prescott had a better single-game passer rating than the opposing quarterback last season, the Cowboys went 10-0. They were 3-2 when he didn't.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott, right, must repeat his regular-season effort against the Packers' Aaron Rodgers -- among others -- if the Cowboys hope to reach double-digit wins again.

During the regular season, Prescott played better than and beat Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore's Joe Flacco, Minnesota's Sam Bradford, Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston and Detroit's Matt Stafford.

Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls, and Rodgers and Flacco each have one.

Not too bad for a rookie.

After the NFL released the 2017 schedule Thursday night, we know Prescott must play his best football in the second half of the season because that's when the Cowboys will face some of the league's best quarterbacks.

Good quarterback play determines so much of a team's success that you can tell a lot about a team's playoff hopes just by looking at how many good quarterbacks it'll face in a season. Prescott opens up against Eli Manning of the New York Giants, but doesn't get another upper-echelon quarterback until Week 5 when Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel to Dallas.

In the last eight games, though, Prescott will face Washington's Kirk Cousins twice, Kansas City's Alex Smith, reigning league MVP Matt Ryan of Atlanta, the Los Angeles Chargers' Philip Rivers, Manning, Oakland's Derek Carr and Seattle's Russell Wilson.

The pressure will be on Prescott to play well for a sustained period of time if the Cowboys are going to be an elite team again.

In December, when playoff positions are secured and games become more important, Prescott will face Manning, Carr and Wilson as Dallas finishes with three of four games on the road.

So Prescott can't have a so-called sophomore slump this year if Dallas is going to make the playoffs again. Tony Romo has moved to the CBS broadcast booth, so there's no one to take over if Prescott struggles.

The Cowboys decided Prescott was their ride-or-die quarterback last November, when they chose him over a healthy Romo.

The comparisons with Romo will start in the preseason and will continue until the season ends. Prescott passed for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns, four interceptions and an average per attempt of 7.99 yards, fourth in the league.

Still, some think he's a one-year wonder like former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Others believe he'll be unable to sustain his play, as happened with 2012 Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III.

Those who believe that didn't pay attention to how the Cowboys used Prescott last season. They let Ezekiel Elliott and the running game protect Prescott and create favorable passing situations. They used run fakes and half-field reads with easy throws to the tight ends until Prescott became comfortable enough for the playbook to expand.

There was nothing fluky about Prescott's performance, but that doesn't mean he'll lead Dallas to 13 wins again. Hey, they've done that only four times in the franchise's 56 seasons.

On 11 occasions last season, Prescott had a passer rating of more than 100.0; the Cowboys went 9-2 in those games. After the Cowboys fell behind 21-3 against the Packers in the NFC divisional round, Prescott rallied Dallas to a 31-31 tie with 35 seconds left.

One incredible throw by Rodgers and an even better catch by Jared Cook set up the Packers' game-winning field goal.

It was the only game the Cowboys lost when Prescott had a better passer rating than the opposing quarterback.

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The Dallas Cowboys will look to become the first team to repeat as NFC East champion since the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003-04, but they will need to overcome a tough close to the season in order to do it, with three games away from home in the final four weeks and the lone home game coming against the Seattle Seahawks.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET

Dak Prescott lost both of his starts a year ago to the Giants and will be looking for some revenge. And he will get it, thanks to Ezekiel Elliott’s 128 yards rushing and two scores and a defense that picks off Eli Manning twice. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m. ET

This would have been a much bigger game had Tony Romo signed with the Broncos, but there will be some intrigue anyway. Remember, the Cowboys wanted to trade back into the first round last year to take Paxton Lynch. They ended up getting lucky with Prescott. But they won’t be lucky this day. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Monday, Sept. 25 at Arizona Cardinals, 8:30 p.m. ET

In their last three trips to University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cowboys have lost in overtime twice and once on a missed point-after attempt. Something strange will happen in this one as well, but this time it will lead to a win. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m. ET

Elliott grew up in St. Louis, the former home of the Rams. Perhaps he remembers the 253-yard and 175-yard efforts DeMarco Murray had against the Rams in 2011 and ’13. Wade Phillips is the Rams’ defensive coordinator, so surely he won’t allow that to happen. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m. ET

The talk leading into this game will be Dallas' divisional-round playoff loss to the Packers in January. The Cowboys feel like they let a playoff run slip away. Blame Aaron Rodgers and his third-and-long completion to Jared Cook. This time, the Cowboys make the late play to seal the win. Record: 4-1

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: Oct. 22 at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET

A year ago, the Cowboys were down 14-0 to the Niners after two series, but they left with a 24-17 win. Kyle Shanahan has taken over for Chip Kelly and has Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as his quarterbacks at the moment. The San Francisco rebuild will take some time. Record: 5-1

Week 8: Oct. 29 at Washington Redskins, 4:25 p.m. ET

Elliott fumbled twice in his first game at FedEx Field and was replaced late in the fourth quarter. This time he doesn’t fumble and he gets more than 100 yards as the Cowboys roll to a victory. Record: 6-1

Week 9: Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET

You have to think Romo, the franchise leader in touchdown passes and passing yards, will be calling this game for CBS. With a five-game winning streak, the Cowboys will feel confident, but the Chiefs are a tough out and will present tough matchups on both sides of the ball. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Nov. 12 at Atlanta Falcons, 4:25 p.m. ET

Cowboys fans had hoped to see the Falcons in the NFC title game last January. They have to settle for this game at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Julio Jones is a matchup nightmare for any defense, and given the Cowboys' lack of a pass rush and the unknowns in the secondary, he will have a big day. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 p.m. ET

Prescott struggled in his one full game against the Eagles last year but figured it out in the fourth quarter and overtime to deliver the win. He won’t struggle this time, but former Eagle Nolan Carroll will make the clinching play. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Nov. 23 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 4:30 p.m. ET

Anthony Lynn was a Cowboys assistant coach under Bill Parcells. He has made quite a move up the ranks since his days coaching the running backs here. He earned the job as Chargers head coach the hard way. Unfortunately, the Celina, Texas, native won’t have a happy homecoming. Oh, Romo will be on hand for this one too. Record: 8-3

Week 13: Nov. 30 vs. Washington Redskins, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Cowboys have back-to-back Thursday games for the second straight year. It worked for them last year with two victories. Dez Bryant and Josh Norman get to reacquaint themselves. Remember the last time these teams met and Bryant said Washington needed to get its money back? Norman said essentially the same thing about Bryant in 2015 while with Carolina. As Terrell Owens used to say, "Get ya popcorn ready." Record: 9-3

Week 14: Dec. 10 at New York Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Cowboys will get a 10-day break leading up to a pivotal NFC East matchup. They don’t fear playing at MetLife Stadium, but they have lost their last two games there. Make it three straight. The Giants' defense will be on point in the rematch. Record: 9-4

Week 15: Dec. 17 at Oakland Raiders, 7:30 p.m. ET

Maybe the Raiders’ fans will take out their displeasure with Jerry Jones when these teams meet in the preseason, but that’s doubtful. In what could be their last appearance in The Black Hole, the Cowboys won’t be able to slow down Derek Carr. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Dec. 24 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. ET

This will be a must-win type game when you factor in tiebreakers. Prescott opened a lot of eyes with how he performed against the Seahawks in the preseason last season after Romo went down on the third play. He might like it if the Seahawks trade Richard Sherman. Record: 10-5

Week 17: Dec. 31 at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

Could the division title be on the line? The Cowboys have won six of their last seven games at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles added big-play receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to help Carson Wentz. At some point, Philly has to regain home-field advantage on Dallas. Record: 10-6video

AP Photo/Brandon WadeDak Prescott was selected to the Pro Bowl after leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record during his rookie season.

The NFL has released its 2017 regular-season schedule. Here's a look at what's in store for the Dallas Cowboys.

Breakdown: The Cowboys have been a solid road team under Jason Garrett the last few years. They were 6-2 away from home a year ago when they finished 13-3 and 8-0 in 2014 when they finished 12-4. Even in their 4-12 finish in 2015, three of the wins came on the road. Why does it matter? The Cowboys close this season with three of their final four games away from home, including a West Coast trip to Oakland in Week 15. And the only home game in the final month is against Seattle, a perennially strong team. So if the Cowboys can make the playoffs again, they will be battle tested. If you want a good omen, the Cowboys last played three of their final four games away from home in 2014 and won all three. In a strange twist, the Cowboys have three two-game road trips during the season: Weeks 2 and 3 at Denver and Arizona; Weeks 7 and 8 at San Francisco and Washington; and Weeks 14 and 15 at New York and Oakland.

Eye in the sky: The Kansas City Chiefs' visit to AT&T Stadium on Nov. 5 should be the first Cowboys game Tony Romo, the franchise leader in touchdown passes and passing yards, will call for CBS provided the network brings its No. 1 team to town. It will lead to an interesting pregame dynamic on the field with Romo watching his former teammates get ready for a game. There's this too: the Chiefs were one of the teams on Romo's short list had he decided to continue to play. Romo will be able to spend Thanksgiving Day at his home as well with the Los Angeles Chargers making their first holiday visit to AT&T Stadium.

Thursday night specials: For the second straight year the Cowboys will play on back-to-back Thursdays with the Washington Redskins visiting on Nov. 30 after Dallas hosts the Chargers. A year ago, the Cowboys beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving and won at Minnesota on their way to a 13-3 finish. In 2007, they had back-to-back Thursday games and swept both on their way to a 13-3 finish. If there is a bit of bad news it is that they play on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" prior to Thanksgiving against the Philadelphia Eagles, making a short week even shorter. On the bright side, at least they are playing at home before the holiday.

Strength of schedule: T-10th, .531

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 3: Monday, Sept. 25, at Arizona, 8:30 p.m.
  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m.
  • Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 6: BYE
  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Washington, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Atlanta, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
  • Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 23, Los Angeles Chargers, 4:30 p.m.
  • Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 30, Washington, 8:25 p.m.
  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, at NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, at Oakland, 8:30 p.m.
  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
video

Josh Norman says the hate that NFC East fans have for rivals has rubbed off on him.

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