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Stephen Jones: Cowboys being efficient with their offseason plan

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- As free agency edges its way to its third week, the Dallas Cowboys are following the plan they laid out before the market opened.

There have been no splashy signings with major commitments in signing bonus or guaranteed money. There has been only one free agent to sign from outside the organization and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton's contract is for $17 million over four years.

Despite the win-now mode they're in with Tony Romo's final few years, the Cowboys are avoiding temptation of a quick fix.

But are they making the team better?

“I just don’t think in winning now by overpaying guys that it helps you win now,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Just don’t think you’re getting a player that’s going to make a difference. On top of that you’re way overpaying him. I think there’s better ways to do it, starting with the draft.”

The Cowboys have the fourth, 34th and 67th overall picks in next month’s draft and believe they can find impact players.

That strategy, however, is not foolproof. Last year’s draft produced just one starter in Byron Jones, their first-round pick. Second-rounder Randy Gregory hurt his ankle in the season opener, missed time and did not record a sack as a rookie. None of the five draft picks who made the team made a big contribution, but La’el Collins was signed as an undrafted free agent and started 11 games.

The 2014 draft produced two quality rookie seasons from Zack Martin and Anthony Hitchens. The 2013 draft produced three in Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and J.J. Wilcox, but Wilcox’s development slowed last season.

“We have a first, a second, a third and two in the fourth, so yeah we have expectations that those guys are going to help us win,” Jones said. “Are they all going to start? Probably not, but are they going to come in here and help? You hope so.”

What they have done this offseason -- or haven't done -- falls in line with what many believe: that 2015 was an aberration brought upon mostly because of the injuries to Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick.

It is a charge Jones disagrees with.

“Our heads are not in the sand. We’ve got to be better,” Jones said. “We’ve got to be able to win games when your quarterback is out. We didn’t do that. We’ve got to get better on defense. We didn’t take the ball away, which leads to not winning. We didn’t get pressure on the quarterback, which leads to no turnovers which leads to no wins.”

The Cowboys hosted cornerback Patrick Robinson and running back Alfred Morris on Monday. Talks continue with their agents on deals but they will be at the Cowboys’ prices if they are to get done. They would fill holes on the roster and give the Cowboys some depth.

Since 2012 the Cowboys have used free agency to fill holes instead of spending big. That year they signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal but also signed guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau to deals totaling $30 million, and backup quarterback Kyle Orton received a $3.4 million signing bonus.

Carr is facing the possibility of getting cut because of his $9.1 million base salary. Livings was cut after one year. Orton's tenure ended after two seasons and a strange departure. Bernadeau was forced to take a pay cut but played out the length of his contract. He recently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Every now and then you back yourself into some corners,” Jones said. “I think most teams, if you really cornered them, they know this isn’t the greatest way to spend your money. But sometimes you get yourself in situations where you're compromised and you can’t cure all your ills through the draft and so you’ve got to overpay a little bit.

“You don’t ever say you’re never going to do it, because you will. I think everybody gets in situations like that every now and then where you do it, but it’s certainly not efficient.”