Stop self-deception and sign Waters

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys lied to themselves about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff's health.

Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett kept convincing themselves he'd be ready for the start of the season, even though he'd done nothing on the field to suggest that.

Now, he has been placed on the physically unable to perform list, which means he'll miss at least the first six games.

They shouldn't lie to themselves again about their offensive line.

The potential for disaster is exceedingly clear to anyone who chooses to not wear rose-colored Ray-Bans.

Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Doug Free at right guard.


You wanna trust high-caliber skill-position players -- such as Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray -- behind an offensive line put together with duct tape and bobby pins?

Parnell, who missed virtually all of training camp with a hamstring injury, has never started an NFL game at right tackle, and Free had never played guard before last week's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

And we haven't even discussed Mackenzy Bernadeau, who struggled much of last season and hasn't practiced this week because of a slight ankle sprain.

Use that line for 16 games, and the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

The solution is easy: Sign free-agent guard Brian Waters, who lives 15 minutes south of downtown Dallas. At least we know the 36-year-old Waters can do the job, as his six trips to the Pro Bowl will attest.

The New England Patriots signed him a week before the 2011 season, and he made the Pro Bowl and helped the Pats get to the Super Bowl. As far as the playbook, all Waters needs to learn is the specific running plays the Cowboys are going to use each week. The same goes for the pass protections.

Play Waters at left guard and let Ron Leary, who's recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, and Bernadeau compete for playing time at right guard. Free and Parnell will do the same for the right tackle job.

That gives the Cowboys quality competition at right guard and tackle and quality backups in case of injury.

Waters didn't play last season, which is a concern, but he doesn't want a ton of money, by NFL standards. Actually, he wants the same deal he had in New England, a base salary of $1.75 million and $1.25 million in playing-time incentives.

The Cowboys are probably reluctant to give him the incentives because they're going to be a tad tight against the salary cap next season, and if Waters hits the incentive clauses, they'll be assessed against next season's cap.

Then again, the Cowboys could just give him $3 million this season. Just so you know, Bernadeau is making $2.03 million this season.

You can understand why Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan want to add a veteran guard. Garrett is under as much pressure as any coach in the league to deliver a playoff appearance, no matter what he or Jerry says.

All you have to do is study history.

Only Oakland and Kansas City have hired more coaches than Jerry since 1997. He has never had a coach for more than four seasons since Jimmy Johnson left after the 1993 season.

And he has never missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons. Garrett is in his third full season as head coach. He'll quickly tell you only 17 players remain from the team he took over in the middle of the 2010 season.

If Garrett doesn't make the playoffs, there's no guarantee he returns. He needs a solid offensive line to get there.

Of course, this isn't the way the Jones boys drew it up. The same goes for Garrett and Callahan.

But this represents their new reality. David Arkin and Kevin Kowalski are try-hard, work-hard, study-hard guys better suited as career backups. Leary has potential, but he has a degenerative knee condition -- the primary reason he went undrafted -- and he has never started.

Nate Livings, signed as a free agent before last season, is another guy with a degenerative knee condition, according to the owner. Waters is a stopgap. We know that. If the Cowboys hadn't missed so badly on linemen in the draft since 2007 -- Bill Nagy, Sam Young, Robert Brewster, James Marten -- they wouldn't be so desperate.

The Cowboys had an agreement with free agent Brandon Moore, but he backed out and chose retirement. The Cowboys have offered Waters a deal worth about $2 million, but that's not enough to get him to make the drive from Cedar Hill to Valley Ranch.

If the NFL told Jerry he could guarantee the Cowboys a spot in the playoffs by writing a check for $1 million, he'd do it before the powers that be changed their mind.

Well, it's time for Jerry to get a deal done with Waters. If he doesn't, regret awaits.