The Dallas Cowboys’ pursuit of 12-year veteran guard Brian Waters started in training camp and culminated with a signing Tuesday evening, followed by a late-night cram session and an early morning uniform fitting on Wednesday.
Waters, 36, is unlikely to play in Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants, although no one is ruling him out. He will continue the frantic pace of learning the playbook and getting in shape.
After sitting out the 2012 season because of personal reasons, the former North Texas star doesn’t mind the whirlwind.
The six-time Pro Bowler is just happy to be playing football again and excited about the opportunity to help his hometown team make a playoff run.
“I grew up here,” said Waters, a Waxahachie native who now lives in Dallas. “This is the hometown team. This is a super-talented football team. I believe this team has been close to breaking through and being a playoff team. Honestly, I think they have been close to being a championship football team. Again, the talent, the coaching staff, the organization and growing up here were probably the biggest things that attracted me the most.”
Neither Waters nor Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones wanted to go into detail about the contract impasse that kept the sides from getting a deal done earlier. They only focused on the result — Waters signing a one-year deal worth up to $3 million to upgrade the offensive line.
“Obviously we have been very consistent saying we need help on our offensive line,” Jones said. “We think this will give it to us. I don’t have much to say about why it didn’t happen [earlier]. The good news is it happened and he is going to help us.”
Said Waters: “Business, man. That’s about it. Everything’s got its own timing. It’s just business that had to be handled. I don’t take anything personal. They’ve got a job to do. I have a job to do. I’ve got to protect me. They’ve got to protect the team. It was just one of those things where things took a little bit longer. It’s good that I’m here.”
Waters declined to go into detail about why he sat out last season after making the Pro Bowl in 2011 with the New England Patriots. He played the first 11 years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He did acknowledge that Dallas was the best place for him to resume his career because of proximity. The question is whether he can pick up where he left off as one of the league’s dominant guards.
Most of that depends on how quickly he can lose some weight and learn the playbook.
“I have no idea,” Waters said. “We will find out. Again, we will find out. There have been no timelines. It’s just about coming out here and trying to get better every day and progressing. All I’m going to say is I’m going to work as hard as I’ve ever done and time will tell. Time will tell.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Waters looked good in his workout Monday and now just has to get up to speed physically. But they have no questions about about his professionalism and commitment to working hard and getting back to his Pro Bowl level.
“We just wanted to know what the story was and why he didn’t play last year, and there was some family concerns that he had,” said Garrett of his initial questions to Waters about sitting out last season.
“You just wanted to see where he was, where he was from an emotional standpoint to come make the commitment to be an NFL player again. His pride as a football player showed up throughout his career in Kansas City. He was one of the best linemen in the National Football League for a long time. I think a lot of that had to do with his approach and athletic ability. We’re excited to have him on board.”
Garrett’s excitement is based on the transition of the Cowboys’ offensive line from a question mark to a strength in terms of starters and depth.
The Cowboys envision Waters starting opposite Ron Leary at guard with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell competing at right tackle. That would allow former starters Mackenzy Bernadeau and Phil Costa to be the primary backups at guard and center, respectively.
“Getting Waters takes us from being a big big question mark on the front end to having good depth,” Jones said. “You take a starter last year, in Bernadeau, and he may ultimately be a backup. Costa and Parnell give you a solid eight there. We are pleased.”
Quarterback Tony Romo is the primary beneficiary of an improved line.
“I think it’s always nice when you are continuing to acquire talent that can help you,” Romo said. “The organization has done a great job just continually bringing in the people who give us a chance to be a better team and go from there. I think Brian has a great track record and I assume he’s going to come in and play as well as he always has. He’s had a great career and we hope that he’s coming in here and we’re going to get the great player we’ve seen.”