NFLN survey/franchise player: Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The question in the NFL Nation survey was pretty straightforward: If you had to start a team with one player, whom would it be?

For those who wanted to win right away, the answer was Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who received 62 votes, even though he is 37 years old and in his 16th season. For those looking at the big picture, the answer was Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who had 56 votes and is in just his second season.

As we localize this for the Dallas Cowboys, we'll answer it two ways. If you're looking to win right now, Tony Romo gets the nod even though he is coming off his second back surgery in eight months and turns 34 in April. The NFL is a quarterback's league. Without one, you do not win. But even with one playing as well as Romo has played the last few seasons, all it has gotten the Cowboys is three straight 8-8 records.

Without Romo, however, the Cowboys are not sniffing Week 17 NFC East title games. Given the timing of his surgery and the recovery time needed, the Cowboys expect Romo to be Romo in 2014, which means he will have them in contention for a playoff spot.

If you're looking for the long-term, then the answer is Tyron Smith.

In Smith, the Cowboys have their left tackle for the next decade. He was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2013. An argument could be made that he was the best left tackle in the game over the second half of the season.

The best part of Smith's development is his age. He is entering his fourth season and he does not turn 24 until Dec. 12.

The Cowboys have his rights through the 2015 season but want to lock him up to a multi-year deal as soon as they can.

They know he will be one of their foundational players for years to come.