IRVING, Texas -- In so many words, Jerry Jones said the Dallas Cowboys don't have time to invest in a first-round quarterback right now.
"This isn't rebuilding time," Jones said.
The Cowboys have missed the playoffs the last four seasons. They made cap-saving cuts to part ways with two of their highest-paid players, releasing defensive end DeMarcus Ware and receiver Miles Austin. They allowed defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, their only defensive Pro Bowler, to sign with a division rival in free agency.
If the Cowboys aren't rebuilding, what are they?
"8-8," Jones said, succinctly and accurately.
Where are they headed?
"Better than 8-8," Jones said. "For some of the kinds of things we're doing, we can get better than 8-8. But that's where we are. We are hellbent to change that. I can speak to that."
Jones and Jason Garrett, the head coach entering the final season in his contract without a playoff appearance on his resume, will acknowledge that Dallas needs to rebuild its defensive line after the departures of Ware, Hatcher and former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff within the last year. That clearly ranks as the team's most glaring need entering this week's draft, even after signing one-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton and a few other rotation-quality defensive linemen this spring.
However, the Cowboys don't consider this a franchise in a rebuilding state. Garrett compares it to when he took over as head coach and identified offensive line as a unit that needed to be revamped, moving on from the likes of Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Flozell Adams and eventually drafting cornerstones Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
The reality is that the Cowboys' roster has been almost completely revamped since Garrett took the reins. The only players remaining from the 2010 roster are quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, offensive tackle Doug Free, receiver Dez Bryant, linebacker Sean Lee, safety Barry Church, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, defensive end Anthony Spencer and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur.
"It's not about rebuilding," Garrett said. "It's about building and building with cornerstone-type players. We felt that we've done that over the last few drafts. We have to continue to do it. Along the way, you have to win games and give yourselves a chance to compete to win your division. It's not about going all the way back to 2-14 again. That's not how this league works."
Jones, who likes to point out that the Cowboys played for the division title in the final week of the regular season the last three years, will never view his franchise as rebuilding as long as Romo is entrenched as the starting quarterback. If Romo is upright -- and the Cowboys express optimism in their franchise quarterback's health even after two back surgeries in the last year -- the Jones views the team as a contender.
As Jones sees it, the Cowboys' priority is to add talent to a defense that finished dead last in the league during an injury-plagued 2013 season.
"If we can do that and have some luck -- or not have bad luck with Romo -- then we've got a chance," Jones said.