SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Sports Writer
IRVING, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones isn’t looking to draft a quarterback — Johnny Manziel or otherwise.
Jones found several ways to shoot down the notion of grabbing Manziel if the former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M unexpectedly falls to the Cowboys at No. 16 in the first round Thursday night.
His answers in the team’s annual pre-draft news conference Tuesday always came back to the same thing: “Our best shot is a healthy Tony Romo.”
The Dallas quarterback just turned 34 and is coming off two back surgeries, the last for a herniated disk sustained against Washington that knocked him out of a playoffs-or-bust loss to Philadelphia in the season finale.
Jones doesn’t like the odds of winning with a rookie quarterback, and sees the development of one as an expensive proposition in terms of money and practice time. Besides, the Cowboys are trying to break a three-season streak of 8-8 finishes and a four-year playoff drought in the final season of coach Jason Garrett’s contract.
“This isn’t rebuilding time,” Jones said. “As a look down the future, yes. But for coming in here and helping us win games right now, those odds are too far for me to get excited about.”
The Cowboys figure to have a defense-first draft after releasing franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary-cap move. Regardless of what happens in the draft, Dallas’ defensive line won’t look anything like what was projected a year ago.
The overhaul doesn’t guarantee Jones will take a defensive lineman. It could be a safety or linebacker. Maybe even a wide receiver.
“We’ve had a lot of attrition in our defensive front this year,” Jones said. “What is obvious is if you want to start at the need you can start right there. We shouldn’t go overboard and be influenced to the point where we pass up a great opportunity to have a great draft otherwise.”
But Jones didn’t sound like the best-player-available theory applied at quarterback. The Cowboys expect backup Kyle Orton to return despite indications that he might not, and Jones said the team made its developmental move by adding free agent Brandon Weeden, a first-round pick by Cleveland 2012.
The owner was joined by Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones for a news conference not long after Romo had some of his first football activity since the surgery in December. Garrett said Romo’s 45 minutes of work on the field included dropping back and throwing, adding that his rehabilitation was on schedule.
They remained steadfast in their belief that Romo’s age and growing history of back trouble aren’t enough to change the approach for a franchise that has drafted just one quarterback in the past 12 years. Romo was an undrafted free agent in 2003 and didn’t take over as the starter until midseason in 2006.
“To me, he’s a very young player,” Garrett said. “He moves around really well. He hasn’t lost any mobility. I think his arm is better than ever. So we don’t look at him despite his back situation he’s had over the past couple of years as somebody who is an old player by any means.”
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