Cowboys facing uphill battle this season

America’s .500 Team has been dismissed for the summer and will resume activities July 22nd in the cool climes of Oxnard, Calif. This will not rank among the best offseasons in team history due to the losses of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher via free agency, and Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury.

The organization’s Director of Delusion, Jerry Jones, joked that it would be impossible for the defense to get any worse in 2014. And he has a point. As great as he’s been for the Cowboys, Ware wasn’t himself last season. There was no reason to give him a lucrative contract extension.

As the U.S. men’s national soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann recently pointed out, there’s no use paying folks for what they’ve accomplished in the past. That’s how Jones got in trouble with Jay Ratliff and even former safety Roy Williams. Hatcher was the one shining light on last season’s defense, but he’s already on the injured list for the Washington Redskins.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We’re certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."

Jerry’s alluding to one of the most injury-ravaged seasons the Cowboys have had in recent memory. It wasn’t quite as bad as what the Rangers are facing this season, but it was not a good situation.

This not a fearsome group that new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will put on the field. The front seven will be headlined by a player who missed all but three games last season for the Chicago Bears. And the Cowboys won’t truly know how much progress Henry Melton has made until he tries to get through a practice in Oxnard. Now, that doesn’t mean Marinelli’s destined to fail. He will benefit from not having to pretend that Monte Kiffin is running things. Marinelli wasn’t able to impact all facets of the defense last season, and that was a problem.

I like how candid Marinelli has been in discussing the regrettable 2013 season. He doesn’t want his legacy in this league to be altered by back-to-back last-ranked units. The good news is that a lot of the players in the front seven this season weren’t around for that mess last season. These free agents don’t arrive with any of that baggage. And Anthony Spencer missed all but one game last season. He didn’t play enough to lose heart. After attending Tuesday’s minicamp session, I joined several reporters in a conversation with Marinelli. He loves the fact that several players on this defense are on one-year contracts. It’s not something you often hear coaches mention.

"We have guys in a contract year with something to prove," Marinelli said. "When you have that many guys who have something to prove, [they] can come out and have a career year."

The Cowboys’ best chance of making a run at the division crown is to develop an elite offense. This offensive line has a chance to be the best of the past decade. That should keep Tony Romo in one piece for most of the season.

The defense doesn’t need to be great, but it needs to move toward the middle of the pack. Finishing in that area would be a huge coup for Marinelli and his group of one-year wonders.