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April 21, 2016

IRVING, Texas (AP) Tony Romo's twice-broken left collarbone wasn't the only problem for the Dallas Cowboys in their first-to-worst freefall to the bottom of the NFC East last season.

Executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones has said as much, and made it clear the Cowboys hope to address some of those issues in the NFL draft starting Thursday night.

Dallas is at No. 4, its highest spot since having the top overall pick twice in three years from 1989-91, first getting Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, then defensive tackle Russell Maryland, another important piece for three Super Bowl winners.

Defense tops the list again for the Cowboys, specifically a pass rush that has been mediocre or worse in recent years and will be weakened by at least one four-game suspension to start the season.

''Our defensive front is still a position that we keep our eye on in terms of always trying to get better there and ultimately find a dominant type of pass rusher,'' Jones said on his radio show this week. ''Obviously that's easier said than done.''

It will be an intriguing opening night of the draft for the Cowboys. The drama of whether they'll take the potential successor to Romo that high appears to be removed by the Rams and Eagles trading up to the top two picks, almost certainly to take quarterbacks.

So the question shifts to the pass rush and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, or perhaps Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott.

And there's always been the possibility of trading down, mostly because Jerry Jones appeared to be leaning that way minutes after a 4-12 season ended and the owner/general manager suddenly and surprisingly found the team so high on the draft board.

Stephen Jones mentioned it again this week.

''Who knows if it's going to be in high demand or if someone wants to try to steal it from you for not what you should be getting for it,'' he said. ''Still haven't ruled out that we would move up if we felt like we should. So, right now, I would say that all options are on the table.''

Things to consider going into the draft for the Cowboys, who at the moment are poised for their third top-10 pick in six years:

THE QB QUESTION: With top-rated prospects Jared Goff and Carson Wentz likely gone to the Rams and Eagles, the Cowboys still might be looking for Romo's backup, and possibly his replacement a few years down the road. Either way, Stephen Jones isn't denying the position is a need for a team that has drafted just three quarterbacks since taking Aikman and later Steve Walsh with a supplemental pick in 1989. The Cowboys went 1-11 last season in games missed by Romo, who was undrafted in 2003.

''Other than first round, we do have some quarterbacks that we do like and think that could develop into something that ultimately could be better than how we played last year,'' Jones said.

RUNNING BACK: It defies logic that Dallas would take a running back with the fourth pick a year after deciding not to spend what it would take to keep 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray. And the Cowboys ended up with a pretty solid replacement in Darren McFadden, a veteran with a history of injury problems who played all 16 games and had his second 1,000-yard season - even though Dallas waited almost six games to make him the lead back. But Stephen Jones seems open to taking a running back at No. 4.

BUT THAT PASS RUSH: The Cowboys have consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league in sacks in recent years. Second-year player Randy Gregory will miss the first four games on a substance abuse suspension. Greg Hardy is unlikely to return following a tumultuous season related to his domestic violence case in North Carolina. If Dallas makes a need pick, defensive end is the biggest one.

SECONDARY: The Cowboys also have been tied to Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But they got burned moving up to take Morris Claiborne at No. 6 in 2012, even though they did re-sign the former LSU standout this year after four disappointing seasons. Ramsey didn't have an interception in his final college season, and the Cowboys were last in the NFL in takeaways in 2015.

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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