The key thing to understand is that the Dallas Cowboys needed a cornerback. The secondary was the biggest reason they flopped down the stretch and failed to reach the playoffs in 2011. They cut Terence Newman on Tuesday, they can't be sure Mike Jenkins can stay healthy and they don't know if Orlando Scandrick is ready to be a starter. They didn't just need someone who was better than Newman -- they needed someone better than Jenkins and Scandrick.
Brandon Carr, late of the Kansas City Chiefs, was their top target. They flew him in Tuesday night, as soon as free agency opened, and they spent 24 hours negotiating a contract with him. Just before 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Adam Schefter reported that the deal was done for five years and $50.1 million.
That's a lot of money, but the Cowboys had little choice. Once Cortland Finnegan signed with the Rams on Tuesday (for similar money), Carlos Rogers re-signed in San Francisco and Eric Wright signed in Tampa Bay, the Cowboys had to come away from this market with Carr. The drop-off to the next-best defensive back on the market was simply too steep.
Carr will be 26 years old when the 2012 season starts, which is part of the appeal. He's a good cover corner and, considering his age, can become even better. That's surely part of the Cowboys' hope -- that they're getting a guy who's on the upswing and is about to blossom into a top-level corner. For that money, he'll need to.
Here's what Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson had to say when I asked him about Carr:
"Well, first and foremost, the Cowboys had a massive need at the position and considering the weapons in the NFC East, getting a reputable CB was a must. I like Carr. He is still young, plays physical and can play man or zone coverage, although I think he is better as a zone guy. However, I also think he benefited a great deal from having [Brandon] Flowers on the other side of him in KC, as the Chiefs often put Flowers on the opponent’s WR1."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement considering the money. But it's a little like the Pierre Garcon signing in Washington. Did they overpay? Clearly. But everybody overpays in the first 24 hours of free agency, and the Cowboys couldn't afford to come out of it without a good cornerback. This is the guy they liked best, and this is what corners cost this year. Lots of pressure on the young man now, of course, to fix one of the team's biggest weaknesses. But I still think they'll look to add another defensive back, either in free agency or in the draft, and he's sure to be better than Newman was in 2011.
The Cowboys have been busy today. They agreed on a deal with backup quarterback Kyle Orton earlier in the day. Since then, they've added guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (who's not a big name but gets added into the mix with their other young interior linemen) and (per Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com on Twitter a few minutes ago) agreed on a deal with fullback Lawrence Vickers. Lots of pieces being added, but Carr is the biggest and most important, and they absolutely needed to pay him what they paid him, or they wouldn't have gotten him.