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Cowboys up

After a flurry of deals, Dallas is most improved team

Posted: Monday March 7, 2005 10:02AM; Updated: Monday March 7, 2005 5:05PM
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Jason Ferguson
Jason Ferguson may be the Cowboys' most important signing of the offseason.
Doug Benc/Getty Images

I expect Bill Parcells will be able to spend a few days doing what he loves to do in March. I expect he'll fly to Florida this week or next, stroll into Tony LaRussa's office at Roger Dean Stadium in his beloved Jupiter, Fla., and say, "How's the team looking this spring, Skip?"

At the Scouting Combine last weekend, Parcells told me and a few other NFL writers that if the Cowboys were able to strike quickly and do what he wanted in free agency, he'd be able to break away before Dallas began its offseason conditioning program late this month and see a few days of Cardinals baseball. He and LaRussa are pals. Maybe another baseball-loving friend, Ron Wolf, would join them.

No team -- except for the terminally subtracting Titans -- has changed as much as Dallas in the last couple of weeks. The Cowboys have been relatively inactive in free agency over the past couple of years, but now it's as though Jerry Jones struck a new oil well. No team in the NFL but the Cowboys can say they've added four players who all have a chance to make the Pro Bowl. The quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, is a bit of a stretch there, but the last time he played for Parcells he was the kind of bombs-away, productive player who put up enough numbers to merit a trip to Honolulu. Plus, he's determined to prove to the Patriots, the Bills and much of the Bledsoe-doubting world he's still a premier player. (He's not, but if he subjugates his ego and does what the coaches tell him, he could still be a winning player.) Guard Marco Rivera and defensive tackle Jason Ferguson should make at least one Pro Bowl while with the Cowboys. And in such a transient time for cornerbacks -- a great CB one year can be pedestrian the next (i.e. Champ Bailey), I love the signing of Anthony Henry from the Browns. The guy just goes and gets the ball.

What the Cowboys did, particularly with Ferguson and Rivera, shows how valuable a strong owner willing to spend available cap money and a coach with clout can be. In Rivera's case, the Cowboys had stiff competition from the Detroit Lions. GM Matt Millen wanted one of the best offensive linemen in the NFC North badly, and he spent a couple of hours upping the ante while Rivera sat at the Cowboys' complex last week. But the Cowboys had home-field advantage -- and home-agent advantage. Jimmy Sexton represents Parcells and Rivera. And so where do you think Rivera made his first stop of free agency? Dallas, of course. And the Cowboys didn't let him out of the building, upping the signing bonus to $9 million, which is right where the Lions were. That got it done. Five years, $20 million, including $9 million to sign.

Ferguson was a crucial piece to the Cowboys. Parcells thinks Dallas hasn't been big enough, or tough enough, up front, and he wants to play the 3-4 somewhere between some and a lot of the time in 2005. Right now, he has the perfect 4-3 rush tackle -- LaRoi Glover -- to pair with Ferguson, but he had no classic nose man. Ferguson is probably better suited to be the run-stopper in a 4-3; that's what he played so effectively last year with the Jets, alongside young prospect DeWayne Robertson. But he has played the nose, and he was the clearly the best interior defensive lineman in this crop. Parcells, while coaching and running the Jets, drafted him in the seventh round eight years ago, and he developed into a team leader with the Jets. Dallas offered him more guaranteed money than the Jets ($9 million to $8 million) and the lack of a Texas state income tax pushed the advantage clearly to Dallas. That plus Parcells.

I wasn't a huge fan of the money Dallas paid Henry (five years, $25 million, including $10 million to sign). Good ballhawk, but not a great player. Teams are paying too much for corners in this market. When a smart team like Carolina pays $13 million to sign for Ken Lucas. I mean, corners shouldn't be that valuable, particularly with the rules favoring receivers so much and taking away some of the edge the physical corners have had.