Cowboys Players Told Coaching Staff Will Remain the Same

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Cowboys Players Told Coaching Staff Will Remain the Same IRVING, Texas — Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips stood before the disappointed Dallas Cowboys on Monday and gave them some encouraging words to take into the offseason.

"Keep it the way it is," was how running back Tashard Choice described their message.

Jones and Phillips did not speak with reporters, but players shared the news — a clear indication Jones plans to pick up the team option on Phillips' contract for next season.

"It sounds like that Wade will be back, so we're definitely happy about that," defensive captain Bradie James said. "It just wouldn't make any sense to let him go right now."

Dallas is 34-17 (counting playoffs) in Phillips' tenure, having won the division twice in three years. Only the Colts, Patriots and Chargers have more wins in that span.

This season, the Cowboys eliminated two major burdens by winning a playoff game and by having a winning record over the final month. They hadn't done either since 1996. Things looked shaky when they opened December with consecutive losses, but they bounced back with a four-game surge that had many people expecting them to keep rolling through the playoffs.

"You can see we were a different football team from the start of the season to the end," safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. "We were able to overcome the hard times, and that shows a lot about a team. That's a (reflection) of Wade as a person."

However, the Cowboys were flattened at the finish for a second straight season, this time going down 34-3 to Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs.

While it didn't sting as badly as the 44-6 exit in last season's regular-season finale, it had the same result: a Monday spent filling trash bags with gear from their lockers and saying goodbye to teammates.

"Either way, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth," cornerback Terence Newman said. "But (everybody) in this locker room made it farther than they have here, so that's definitely a positive and a plus. It's a stepping stone."

Dallas has now gone a franchise-worst 13 straight seasons without winning — or even reaching — a Super Bowl. That's only part of the reason Jones has more incentive than ever to try ending the drought.

The Super Bowl is coming to Cowboys Stadium after next season, the first time his franchise has hosted it. No host has ever played in the game, and that's been an obsession for Jones since he won the bid.

"That would be like the best situation that could happen, period," Newman said.

Jones also is expected to have some new rules to play by this offseason, a byproduct of there likely being no salary cap next season. Sure, there will still be certain limitations — but count on Jones to test the boundaries, especially with the dangling carrot of a Super Bowl at his $1.2 billion showplace.

Dallas also will have a first-round pick again, after not having one last season.

The flip side is the front office might not have to do too much. This roster already is in pretty good shape, especially with young players such as receiver Miles Austin, running back Felix Jones, linebacker Anthony Spencer and cornerback Mike Jenkins having breakout seasons.

Although the offensive line was mostly to blame for the Minnesota loss, the unit was good enough for Tony Romo to put together the first 5,000-yard season in franchise history.

The defense led by DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff allowed the fewest points in the NFC this season and closed the regular season with the first back-to-back shutouts in franchise history. Kickoff specialist David Buehler set a franchise record for touchbacks and punter Mat McBriar was solid, too.

Their most glaring weakness? Field-goal kicker. Former Pro Bowler Nick Folk was cut and his replacement, Shaun Suisham, missed two kicks Sunday.

"With the type of quarterback and running game that we have, and our abilities to stop the run and to produce the pass rush that we can, we have all the characters for winning it all," defensive end Igor Olshansky said.

Dallas already has changed one spot on the coaching staff, hiring Paul Pasqualoni to replace Todd Grantham in charge of defensive linemen. Grantham left to become defensive coordinator at Georgia. Phillips encouraged that move, which also points to his return. He's also likely to remain in the dual role of head coach and defensive coordinator considering how well the defense played.

"It's good for us," safety Ken Hamlin said.

Phillips and his staff actually have one more game to coach: the Pro Bowl. They will guide the NFC in Miami the weekend between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, a taunting reminder of how close this team was to capping its 50th season in style.

"We just came up short at the end, but we definitely made strides," Spencer said. "The things that we did this year, we just need to do them better next year."

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