<
>

Cowboys continue to fill holes through free agency

3/3/2005 - Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys said Thursday they are
close to finalizing a deal with guard Marco Rivera, ticking another major item off their offseason upgrade list.

At the start of a news conference introducing new cornerback
Anthony Henry, who signed Wednesday, the Cowboys said they will
have one or two more announcements later in the day. One of those could be defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, with whom the Cowboys reached an agreement on Wednesday.

"These were our first three guys in, and thank goodness we got
them done," team vice president Stephen Jones said.

The Cowboys also signed quarterback Drew Bledsoe last week,
filling their four most pressing needs just two days into free
agency. The team has been active in free agency before, but Jones
said he doesn't recall signing "as many, this fast."

Like Bledsoe, Ferguson is a former draftee of Cowboys coach Bill
Parcells. Parcells has often called the massive defensive tackle
one of the best picks he's ever made, mainly because he snagged him
in the seventh round for the New York Jets. Ferguson was expected
to get a four-year deal with a signing bonus of around $9 million.

With plenty of room under the salary cap, clearly defined needs
after a 6-10 season and Parcells' urgency to win this season, the
Cowboys were anticipating a big start to the free-agent signing
period. Ferguson, Henry and Rivera were all in town Wednesday.
Dallas wound up finishing only Henry's deal that day -- five years,
roughly $10 million bonus.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Ferguson becomes the anchor of what will
be a revamped defensive line, especially if the Cowboys shift from
the 4-3 to a 3-4. Regardless, he becomes the block-eating wide body
to pair next to perennial Pro Bowl pick La'Roi Glover.

Rivera has blocked for Brett Favre in Green Bay for the past
nine years, playing every game the last six. He's expected to take
over at right guard, a problem spot throughout last season.

Ferguson is 30 and Rivera is 33, further indication that the
Cowboys are building for 2005, when Parcells will be in the
second-to-last year of his contract.

Henry is 28 and has no direct ties to Parcells, but he does have
a connection with a Dallas assistant. Todd Bowles is the only
position coach he's had in the NFL, having worked together the past
four years in Cleveland.

"This is about the availability of a player like Anthony, at
his age, who we could lock in for a long time," owner Jerry Jones
said.

Henry had 10 interceptions as a rookie in 2001, but just seven
since. Still, he's considered a physical corner (85 tackles last
season) who should be far more reliable on the right side than any
of the four players Dallas was forced to use last season after not
signing any free agents to play opposite Terence Newman.

"I figure I'll be able to pick up the system quickly," Henry
said.

Next up on the Cowboys' wish list are a safety to replace Darren
Woodson, added depth on both lines, linebacker, receiver and
running back. They also have two first-round picks to help fill
their needs.