The Dallas Cowboys went to bed Tuesday night thinking they had finally found an answer to their interior-line issues with former Pro Bowl guard Brandon Moore after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal.
A deal is not a deal, however, until it’s signed.
And the 10-year veteran Moore woke up Wednesday morning with a change of heart, deciding to retire.
It was a huge setback for the Cowboys, who thought offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s relationship with Moore from their days with the New York Jets cinched the deal. But Moore decided to stay home with his family rather than get on a plane for a cross-country flight from New York to California.
“I totally respect his decision,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “Obviously, with a commitment like this you’ve got to be all in. But it’s surprising, yes. We thought we had a deal and were going to have him here.”
Said coach Jason Garrett: “We had some history with Brandon. We felt good about him and he felt good about playing. But football is one of those games where if you are not completely into it, you are not 100 percent full bore, it’s a bad game to play. It’s a hard game to play anyway if you are completely committed to it.
“So at this point in his career he decided not to play football anymore. We respect that decision. We will try our best going forward.”
The question is where the Cowboys go from here. They all but acknowledged publicly with the failed pursuit of Moore that their concern at guard is at an urgent and critical point because of the injuries to returning starters Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Livings started camp on the non-football injury list, came back for a week and then had arthroscopic knee surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the preseason. Bernadeau returned to practice Friday after missing the first two weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list with a hamstring. Garrett said Bernadeau has been very rusty since his return.
That both were coming off injury-filled seasons last year when they joined the Cowboys with lucrative free-agent deals only hastened the Cowboys’ decision to move in another direction with the start of the season roughly a month away.
“It’s always urgent,” Garrett said. “It was urgent in the off-season leading up to the draft. It was urgent after that. And it’s get more and more urgent as you get closer to the games. The injuries have been the biggest issue. Nate Livings having not been able to practice, Mackenzy ... all those guys who are veteran players for us, starting veteran players. They haven’t been able to practice very much. So you have to address the need somehow, some way.”
“If you have a chance to get a veteran player who can come in and provide some competition to be a starter, I think that is a positive thing for your team, if you can work it out from a salary cap standpoint.”
The salary cap issues that hamstrung the Cowboys’ ability to be players in the free-agent market in the off-season prevented them from addressing the guard position in the spring. Moore was available then but only Tuesday were they able to come to an agreement — when the Cowboys had more room and he came down on his demands. It was all to no avail.
Jones said the the position remains a huge concern and the Cowboys will continue to look at options via free agency, trade or the waiver wire.
“We are not through looking,” Jones said. “We have options. But we also have parameters we have to work within with our cap situation. We have guys we are looking at. We will continue to look.”
One possibility the Cowboys are admittedly exploring is former North Texas standout Brian Waters, a six-time Pro Bowler with the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots. He lives in Waxahachie. But he has not played since the end of the 2011 season.
“Brian Waters has been a really good player in this league for a long time,” Garrett said. “The biggest issue for Brian right now is he hasn’t played in 18 months.”
The Cowboys have already seemingly moved to replace Livings at left guard with second-year player Ron Leary.
But Garrett said the Cowboys would like to get everything else ironed out so the line could play together in the preseason to develop some chemistry.
They plan to make the best of the situation even it means moving rookie center Travis Frederick to guard with the demoted Phil Costa back at center to get the best five on the field for the season opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 8.
“It’s one of those positions that it matters who’s playing next to each other and developing some of that communication,” Garrett said. “So you’d like to have it all in place right now. That’s not the nature of this league. That’s not the nature of our team right now. So we’re trying to function as well as we can to put the best group together.”