IRVING, Texas -- Better late than never.
The Cowboys finally addressed their glaring need for an upgrade at guard, making a good enough offer to get six-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters to agree to report to work at Valley Ranch.
What took so long? Well, the fact that the 36-year-old Waters, who opted to take a season off after playing a critical role in the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl campaign two years ago, is allergic to training camp and the preseason was a factor. But the primary reason this waited until the week of the season opener is because Jerry Jones kept playing chicken, trying to get Waters to take backup money for a starting job.
For about 12 hours early in training camp, the Cowboys thought they addressed this issue by agreeing to a deal with guard Brandon Moore, a Bill Callahan favorite from their time together with the New York Jets. Moore changed his mind after sleeping on it, deciding to retire, and the Cowboys’ carousel at the position kept on spinning with seven players getting guard reps with the starters this summer.
The position still isn’t settled for the season opener. (Will Ronald Leary be ready to make his NFL debut? Will Doug Free have to play a full game at guard for the first time in his life?) It’s probably expecting too much for Waters, who sources say is in pretty good shape but will surely have to chip off some rust after 19 months off, to be part of the solution Sunday night.
But it’s a virtual guarantee that Waters will dramatically improve the Cowboys’ performance at right guard, allowing Mackenzy Bernadeau to serve as a backup and providing a veteran presence next to savvy rookie center Travis Frederick. Plus, the Free-to-guard experiment ends, letting him play his natural position.
It’s not quite clear why Waters decided to walk away from the Patriots, but it certainly wasn’t because his play was slipping. After signing with New England on Sept. 4, 2011, he started every game for a Super Bowl team and earned a Pro Bowl invitation in the process.
Waters was the fourth-best guard in football that season, according to ProFootballFocus.com’s play-by-play grades. He ranked No. 1 among guards in pass blocking. Talk about a Romo-friendly addition.
The head-scratcher here isn’t that it took the Cowboys, who released safety Eric Frampton to make room for Waters, until Sept. 3 to reach an agreement with Waters. It’s that they didn’t want him two years ago, when they opted to go with Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland at guard before paying good money for mediocre replacements in free agency.
Think the Cowboys could have gotten over the 8-8 hump the past two seasons with an elite guard anchoring the offensive line?
The funny thing is that Waters -- a Waxahachie, Texas, native -- could have spent his whole career with the Cowboys if they had figured out what to do with him as an undrafted rookie. Dallas attempted to turn Waters, who played defensive tackle and tight end at North Texas, into a fullback before cutting No. 34 after that 1999 training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs picked up Waters, shipped him to NFL Europe to learn the tricks of the interior offensive line trade, and the rest is history.
Oh, well. All’s well that ends well. And the Cowboys’ odds of ending the season well got a lot better once they finally brought Waters on board.