Cowboys hoping Parrish can help shore up secondary

Updated: December 8, 2006, 4:38 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Hoping that a proven veteran might rectify the glaring deficiencies that have existed at free safety for much of this season, the Dallas Cowboys have claimed Tony Parrish off waivers.

Tony Parrish
Parrish

Parrish, 31, was released earlier this week by the San Francisco 49ers, who needed to create a roster spot to address injuries at linebacker. The 49ers signed seven-year veteran Jay Foreman to augment the position.

It is not known how quickly Parrish can assimilate the Dallas defense and contribute in the secondary. But for a team that is on a roll right now, and which suddenly possesses Super Bowl aspirations, the addition of Parrish might provide a significant boost.

On an otherwise outstanding defense, Dallas has struggled at free safety, and lacks a player with the kind of ball skills requisite to the position.

Rookie Pat Watkins, a fifth-round draft choice, began the season as the starter. But the former Florida State standout demonstrated poor awareness, and while in position to author meaningful plays early on, failed too often to play the ball, and surrendered several long completions. After six games, the Cowboys replaced him with veteran Keith Davis, who started 15 games at free safety in 2005. But Davis, a four-year veteran, is better suited to playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and is miscast at free safety.

The Cowboys have gotten just one interception from the position in the first 12 games of the year.

In Parrish, the Cowboys are getting a nine-year veteran who has played in 130 games and has 640 tackles, five sacks, 30 interceptions, 45 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. The former University of Washington star combines the deep range of a free safety and the hitting ability of a strong safety. Five times in his career he registered three or more interceptions, and he totaled 16 pickoffs in 2002-2003, including nine in 2003, when he tied for the league lead.

His problems in San Francisco began when Parrish broke his right fibula in a Nov. 13, 2005 contest, his 121st straight game. He missed the balance of the '05 season after undergoing surgery that included the insertion of several screws into his leg. In camp this season, San Francisco coaches hinted that Parrish, despite his diligent rehabilitation, wasn't up to his normal speed.

Parrish opened the season as the starter, then began splitting time with Mark Roman at free safety, and eventually lost his starting job altogether.

If he is healthy, which Parrish claims he is, the veteran can certainly help the Cowboys on the field. And the classy Parrish is the kind of leader coach Bill Parcells will welcome to his locker room.

By claiming him on waivers, the Cowboys are liable for the prorated portion of Parrish's 2006 base salary of $2 million, which would come to $470,588 for the final month of the season.

Dallas also released rookie kick returner Skyler Green, a fourth-round draft pick.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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