Cowboys continue to fill holes through free agency

Updated: March 3, 2005, 1:04 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press