Alan Ball: Unfinished Business

IRVING, Tex. - It would be hard to blame various members of the Dallas Cowboys if they already were making offseason plans.

After all, a season that started with widespread expectations that Dallas could become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl played in its home stadium ended almost as soon as it began, as the Cowboys stumbled out to a 1-7 start, virtually eliminating themselves from playoff contention by November.

Head coach Wade Phillips was fired. Starting quarterback Tony Romo and star rookie Dez Bryant were lost for the season with injuries. Speculation among fans and media about who would be back next season finally was validated when owner Jerry Jones said recently that he anticipates a significant turnover of the current roster.

According to safety Alan Ball said it's premature to start thinking about next year until after Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Your mind can sort of veer off, because the season is basically over, and it has been a rough one," Ball said. "But we're all competitive — you don't get to this level without being competitive. We're still in season. It's a 16-game schedule, and we're not done. We have a game left."

When asked about Jones's comments, Ball — whose name has been mentioned among those mentioned who might be on the hot seat for a roster spot next year — said it wasn't unexpected.

"He's right — there should be some turnover," Ball said. "There's turnover every year, on every team, and we didn't perform the way we can this year, so of course he should say that. There's always going to be changes, and as disappointing as this season has been, it's no different."

But before Ball and his teammates can worry about where they'll be playing next season, they still have to contend with their longtime NFC East rivals, the Eagles.

Ball said that while the Cowboys are eliminated from playoff contention, and the Eagles are in the postseason but have little else for which to play — and therefore might reduce playing time for several key starters, or even rest them for the entire game — he expects an intense battle in the regular-season finale.

"I know we're going to go out and play hard, and I expect the Eagles to, too," he said. "It's a rivalry game, and that always adds to it. We're done after this game, but we want another win."

The closest Ball came to acknowledging that he had even contemplated the Cowboys' possible offseason moves was when he admitted that Sunday's game could serve as an audition for next year.

"It's tough, because until we know who the coach is going to be," he said, "we don't even know who we're auditioning for.

"But every game is an audition. The ‘NFL' — that could stand for ‘Not For Long.' Every time you go out and play, it's like an audition. Every game is another game they put on film, so you want to make sure you play hard and play well, because someone's always watching, and you never know when you could be playing for that someone."

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