Brandon Magee took home hats and T-shirts from his pre-draft visit to Valley Ranch. The Arizona State linebacker took the Dallas Cowboys’ parting gifts with him to a draft party in Newport, Calif.
“I told my mom, ‘No matter what, I’m going to be a Cowboy,’” Magee said in a phone interview. “There was nothing that was going to stop me from being a Cowboy. Luckily, they liked me enough to give me the opportunity to go out there and show what I can do.”
Magee went undrafted last weekend, but the Cowboys liked him enough to give him a $70,000 signing bonus as a free agent. That’s more than any seventh-round pick from 2012 received.
“The Cowboys understand what they want, and I think it will be rewarding for them,” said Magee’s agent, Blake Baratz, president of The Institute for Athletes. “Brandon is a really, really good kid and a good player. He fits what they’re going to do now.”
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The Cowboys have had success with undrafted free agents. At the end of last season, they had 16 players on their 53-player roster they obtained as undrafted free agents. Four will enter training camp in July with starting jobs, including Tony Romo and Miles Austin.
Romo signed the Cowboys’ $10,000 bonus offer in 2003, turning down $20,000 guaranteed from the Denver Broncos, because he liked his chances to make Dallas’ roster better.
Fortunately for Magee, the team with the top offer was the best fit for him.
The Cowboys, who didn’t have a seventh-round pick but ended up with two third-rounders, used only one choice on a linebacker despite switching to the 4-3 defense. They selected South Carolina’s DeVonte Holloman in the sixth round, with their final choice.
“Dallas was one of the better fits anyway, if not the best fit,” Baratz said. “It just so happened that they also happened to be the one to pay the most money. When you’re an undrafted free agent, you have to go to the best opportunity, not the most money. You’re trying to make $405,000 [the rookie minimum salary]. A few thousand dollars is not the end game.”
The Cowboys signed Memphis offensive guard Ronald Leary as an undrafted free agent last year, guaranteeing him $214,000. Leary, who was released in final cuts before the season, was re-signed and spent 14 weeks on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster. He was inactive the final two games of the season.
Dallas had a fourth-round grade on Magee, and Baratz said he had offers from every team in the league after the draft. Yet, for whatever reason, Magee went undrafted.
“I think it was luck of the draw,” Magee said. “It could have been my injury. It could have been my baseball contract with Boston. It could have been my size. There are so many factors that go into it. But right now, I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Everyone passed me up. I’m never going to forget that.
“It’ll just make it a better success story.”
Magee is 5-foot-11, 223 pounds with arms measuring only 28 3/4 inches. By comparison, Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns, is 6-4, 241 and has 333/4-inch arms, and Jarvis Jones, the No. 17 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is 6-3, 245 pounds and has 33-inch arms.
Magee has been unlucky, too. He ruptured an Achilles’ tendon in a team scrimmage during the summer of 2011, forcing him to miss what would have been his final season. He returned in 2012 and sprained his right elbow late last season. Though he didn’t miss a game, the injury kept him from bench- pressing for scouts before the draft.
“For some reason, in my life, the worst that can happen, it happens,” Magee said, “and then I end up overcoming it and am a better man because of it. I’ve always used it to be a role model to hopefully help kids persevere. So this latest is just another piece of the story.”
Magee is as good of a baseball player as he is a football player. The outfielder twice went to the College World Series in three seasons with ASU’s baseball team, and he was drafted three times by major league teams. He turned down offers from the Rays and the Athletics but signed with the Red Sox as a 23rd-round pick last year and has that as a fallback if the NFL doesn’t work out.
But Magee, who made 113 tackles last season, insists he is a football player first. He intends to make the Cowboys’ roster and leave baseball in his past.
Former teammate Vontaze Burfict signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals last year and now is a starting linebacker.
“I’m 100 percent focused on the Cowboys,” Magee said. “Honestly, right now, my heart is happy to be able to play for the Dallas Cowboys.”