Jones hints Livings has serious knee issue

Over the last week, Cowboys officials have publicly discussed Ronald Leary being the starting left guard when the regular season starts against the New York Giants.

So what has happened to Nate Livings, who started 16 games at that position last season?

Now we know: Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones hinted during a radio interview on KRLD-FM that Livings, who has undergone two knee surgeries since February, could have a degenerative condition in his knee.

"You'd ask yourself, 'Is there a degeneration in the knee, as opposed to a fix of an injury that comes back as good as new?' I think he’s having some of that, a degeneration," Jones said Friday. "But that's not uncommon at all at this point in his career, so a combination of those things puts a little guesswork into when he might be back."

The Cowboys could release Livings, but he'd still count $2.4 million against the salary cap in 2013 whether he's on the roster or not. With the offensive line in a fluid situation, the Cowboys might place Livings on the injured reserve-returnable list where he'd miss eight weeks of the season. A NFL team can only use this designation once during the season.

Livings was a productive player last season but his health started to betray him toward the end of the season. Cowboys officials have played Leary at left guard with the first team in Livings' absence. When Leary went down with a knee injury, that required minor surgery, David Arkin moved into that spot.

Leary is expected to return for the season opener against the New York Giants, but the Cowboys continue to experiment. Starting right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is getting snaps at left guard while right tackle Doug Free moved to right guard. Jermey Parnell moved from the second team to the first team at right tackle.

You should expect to see that combination during Saturday's fourth preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium.

"Starting from the interior, I'd like to think that Leary, when he returns, (would start)," Jones said. "We do expect him to return back before the Giants. (Travis) Frederick has had a top preseason. He's everything that we had hoped he would be. He's arguably in the top two of our offensive linemen. And then Bernadeau has come back, has had a lot of reps, played well against Arizona (and is) having a good week of practice. So the interior guys, those three come to my mind."

When talking about the tackles, Jones said, "I look at it as certainly (Tyron) Smith at left tackle and Free at right tackle. We got some good depth here. Parnell will get some playing for the first time this weekend and probably get quite a bit this coming Thursday (in the final preseason game against the Texans) as well. I'd call that our top five."