Cowboys make splash in free agency

IRVING, Texas -- When Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis just three or so weeks ago that the Dallas Cowboys had a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, the comment was met with near disgust, not just an eye roll.

Many assumed the Cowboys owner and general manager had hit the heights of delusion. After all, the Cowboys had just missed the playoffs for the third time in four years and saw their NFC East rival New York Giants win their second Super Bowl in five years.

Through the first three days of free agency, the Cowboys have been aggressive.

They have signed six free agents, with cornerback Brandon Carr being the big fish at five years, $50.1 million. The rest of the signings -- Kyle Orton, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Lawrence Vickers, Brodney Pool and Dan Connor -- are not sexy, but sexy doesn't sell in free agency all the time.

The Cowboys systematically followed a plan they had before free agency began.

Coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, secondary coach Jerome Henderson and assistant secondary coach Joe Baker boarded Jones' private plane for Kansas City to pick up Carr.

By 6 p.m. Tuesday, they were at Cowboys Stadium, using the $1.2 billion stadium in their recruiting pitch.

Carr took a tour of the stadium. He dined in Jones' suite and was joined by DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Sean Lee. A video of the team's history, spliced with Carr's highlights, played on the center-hung digital board. After that, a constant loop of 2011 highlights played.

By 2 a.m., an agreement was hammered out, which Carr signed Wednesday at Valley Ranch.

"We showed why we think Dallas is such a special place," Garrett said. "We showed him our facility, showed him our stadium, talked about the tradition of the Dallas Cowboys, talked about our current team. We showed Brandon, Mackenzy, Kyle, Lawrence and Brodney how we believed they fit in and why we think they're important to our team. I think it all resonated with them. It came from the heart. It's stuff we believe in. It was a very thoughtful process."

Let's be honest. A guaranteed $26.5 million for Carr helped too, but this is something the Cowboys had to do.

If you jump into the free agency pool for the top players early in the process, you have to pay -- and pay big. There is not any bargain shopping early. That starts next week.

The Cowboys determined Carr was their guy and got him. They determined Orton was the best fit as the backup quarterback and got him.

They could not or would not get into the deep end for an offensive lineman like Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs, so they targeted Bernadeau. In 2006, not many fans knew who Kyle Kosier was, but he turned into one of the best and most economical signings the team had. The Cowboys hope Bernadeau can do the same.

When the Cowboys didn't tender an offer to Tony Fiammetta or reach a deal on a multi-year offer, they targeted Vickers and got him. They did the same with Pool, whom some at Valley Ranch wanted to sign a year ago before getting a deal with Abram Elam.

The Cowboys can profess their love for Bruce Carter all they want, but until they see him play more on defense, they don't know what the second-year linebacker can do. To protect themselves, they targeted Connor and got him.

The only guy that got away was tight end Kellen Davis, who returned to Chicago on a two-year deal.

"It was important for us to make our message clear and communicate well as to why they would be good for us," Garrett said. "Each of them understood it well."

The last time the Cowboys signed this many free agents was in 2006 with a class that included Akin Ayodele, Rocky Boiman, Jason Fabini, Ryan Hannam, Kosier and Mike Vanderjagt.

Ayodele and Kosier were solid starters. Fabini was a backup tackle. Vanderjagt was a disaster before he was cut. Hannam was hurt and placed on injured reserve. Boiman didn't make the team coming out of training camp.

Clearly free agency doesn't solve all of the problems, as the aforementioned shows you, but being a spectator in free agency wasn't an option for the Cowboys either.

Do the signings guarantee a playoff spot? Do they mean the Cowboys will compete for a Super Bowl? No. But it gives them a chance that some thought wasn't going to come when Jones made his combine comments.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.