NFC East: Brian Waters



IRVING, Texas -- While the Dallas Cowboys have not officially said so, Sean Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday, according to sources, and the defense will be without its best player.

The Cowboys have yet to use the bat signal to call all unemployed middle linebackers.

The current plan is to go with what is on the roster.

They have DeVonte Holloman, who started the final two games of last season at middle linebacker after Lee suffered a neck injury. They have Justin Durant, who started one game in Lee's absence last season. They have rookie Anthony Hitchens, their fourth-round pick.

With eight more organized team activities, followed by six practices during a three-day minicamp next month, the Cowboys will soon have a better idea about where they stand regarding a replacement for Lee.

After that, perhaps they will look off campus for help.

Veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Erin Henderson and Pat Angerer have been mentioned. Even Brian Urlacher's name has come up.

Urlacher's connection to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli makes it interesting, but would it be appetizing? Urlacher did not play last year. He turned 36 this week. His knee gave him issues in his final seasons with the Bears.

Last year the Cowboys signed guard Brian Waters before the season started. He did not play in 2012 but managed to play in seven games and start five before a torn biceps ended his season. He was 36 then.

Often, past success outweighs present ability when fans yearn for a player to be signed. Urlacher is not the same player who dominated the NFL for years, just as Waters was not the same player last year that he was earlier in his career. He was solid and he helped Dallas, but he was not the same Pro Bowl player.

Vilma and Angerer have health issues. The Minnesota Vikings released Henderson in January after a DUI arrest.

At the end of May, there are no magic solutions to replace Lee.

The Cowboys will see if they can get by with Holloman, Hitchens or Durant, who did not take part in Tuesday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury. They will study the rosters of the other teams hard over the course of the summer to see if they can find (or need) an upgrade.

The players mentioned today -- Urlacher, Angerer, Henderson and Vilma -- are likely to be available when training camp begins or even later.

If the Cowboys need them in July or August or September, they can make the call.

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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Who will lead the Cowboys in sacks this season?

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 18, 2014
4/18/14
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • What I would do with the 16th pick in the draft if I was the general manager.
  • What about a quarterback in the second round?
  • What about Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne?
  • What about the salary-cap implications of letting Kyle Orton go?

Away we go:
 

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 5, 2014
4/05/14
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. We touch on a number of subjects ranging from: Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Tony Romo's successor and cap hell.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

Free-agency primer: Cowboys

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer, Brian Waters, Danny McCray, Ernie Sims, Jarius Wynn

Where they stand: After finishing with the worst-ranked defense in the NFL in 2013, the Cowboys need help everywhere, but mostly on the defensive line. The need could be even greater if the Cowboys are unable to come up with a new deal for DeMarcus Ware, who is set to make $12.25 million in 2014 and count $16.003 million against the cap. Coming off an 11-sack season, Hatcher is likely to command more money from another team that will make it unlikely for the Cowboys to match, but they will not close the door on keeping him. Spencer is rehabbing from knee surgery and could be had on a short-term deal that will not involve a lot of money. The rest of their free agents are more fill-in types who will be allowed to test the market if not allowed to leave altogether.

What to expect: Not much. Last year the Cowboys added safety Will Allen and linebacker Justin Durant in free agency on short-term, low-money deals. The approach will be more that way than setting the market on a player as they did in 2012 for cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million). Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys can be "efficient" spenders in free agency. The Cowboys will have to create space under the cap to sign players to modest deals. The best bet is for them to look for low-cost help on players on the line looking to rebound from down years or injuries. They also could look at safety, though Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine that they liked their young safeties such as J.J. Wilcox. Whatever money the Cowboys do have is more likely to be set aside for Tyron Smith and/or Dez Bryant.

2014 Cowboys free agents: Brian Waters

February, 28, 2014
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Brian Waters
Position: Guard
Type: Unrestricted
2013 salary: $1.5 million

Waters
Summary: He was signed Sept. 4 after he and the Cowboys flirted for most of training camp. By Week 3 he was the starting right guard, but he suffered a torn triceps against the Detroit Lions and was done for the season.

Why keep him: While he was not the All-Pro performer he was in his days with the Kansas City Chiefs, Waters brought stability to the middle of the line. His strength helped with the attitude of the running game, and he remained a solid pass protector. He showed he can still play and be more than a functional piece of an offensive line.

Why let him go: He turned 37 on Feb. 18, and at the end of the season had yet to decide whether to have triceps surgery or not. He cannot play again if he doesn’t have the surgery. Mackenzy Bernadeau raised his level of play after Waters went down for the season, and the Cowboys could look to select a top guard early in the draft. Waters has made it known he is not a fan of the offseason or training camp, so he would not have time to get accustomed to the players around him. He has played only five games in the past two seasons, having sat out the 2012 season.

Best guess: The Cowboys keep Waters’ name in their Rolodex, and if they need to make a call in the summer to gauge his interest, they will make it. He has kept himself in good shape and has shown he does not need a ton of time to get ready. But this option exists only if he has the surgery.

Dallas roster not stripped, but retooled

February, 25, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said stripping down the team and going through a complete overhaul is impossible in large part because of the salary cap.

If you look at the roster, however, the Cowboys have undergone a slow-rebuild -- if not a one-year overhaul -- the past few years with the idea that they can still make the playoffs, which would fall into Jones’ “compete for a Super Bowl,” credo by definition.

Ware
Spencer
The 8-8 finishes the past three seasons have prevented the Cowboys from making the playoffs, but the roster overhaul has happened and the cleaning up of the cap, as Stephen Jones likes to call it, is in midstream.

The offensive line has been remade since 2011 with only Doug Free remaining. They have invested in three younger cornerbacks, although they have yet to see the payoff in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. They have two younger receivers to build around in Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.

The rebuilding of the defensive line has to start this offseason, especially if DeMarcus Ware does not return.

The Cowboys have gotten younger. They have seven players under contract for 2014 that will be 30 or older by the time the season starts. Only Tony Romo, Free, Jason Witten and L.P. Ladouceur are guaranteed to be around this season. There are cap questions around Ware and receiver Miles Austin, and quarterback Kyle Orton has to decide whether he wants to continue to play.

Free agent defensive linemen Jason Hatcher (32) and Anthony Spencer (30), and guard Brian Waters (37) will be allowed to test the market and sign elsewhere.

The Cowboys have 27 players signed past 2014 who finished the year on the 53-man roster in 2013. Only 10 have significant financial commitments, including Austin and Ware, who could be gone before this coming season. Players such as Carr and Mackenzy Bernadeau could be part of a recycle in 2015.

Bryant and Tyron Smith stand to see steep pay increases over the next 12-18 months, with their contracts expiring over the next two seasons. Perhaps the same could happen with running back DeMarco Murray, who is in the final year of his deal.

Rebuilding is not a word Jones will use. Reloading does not apply to a team that has one playoff win since 1996.

Maybe retooling is the more apt description.

But will that guarantee anything more than 8-8?
IRVING, Texas -- Brian Waters, who is set to hit free agency after a seven-game run at right guard for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, turns 37 years old Tuesday.

Waters
Will he play in 2014?

If he wants to, then he will. That is the question Waters has not answered and likely will not answer until well into the offseason.

He has yet to have surgery on a torn triceps that knocked him out for the season, but even if he does have the operation he said in December that would not mean he will play in 2014. He talked the day after the season about needing the surgery just for quality of life.

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Should the Cowboys try to keep Brian Waters?

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Waters started five games for the Cowboys and played in seven at right guard. Jason Garrett talked about Waters’ presence changing the offensive line. He brought a toughness and diligence to the group.

At this stage in his career, Waters does not want to go through the rigors of an offseason program and training camp. He and the Cowboys went back and forth last summer and the Cowboys were ready to move on to Brandon Moore until he opted not to get on a plane to Oxnard, Calif.

Waters eventually signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million and more from incentives, joining the Cowboys on Sept. 4, 2013. He was active for the second week of the season. He moved into the starting role Sept. 29 against the San Diego Chargers and held it until he tore his triceps against the Detroit Lions.

Waters did enough in 2013 to show he can still play. Maybe not at the All-Pro level he once played, but certainly good enough for a team to win games with him. But he is 37.

Should the Cowboys re-sign him if he wants to play?

Age not a factor for Cowboys

February, 4, 2014
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Dallas CowboysAP Photo/Tim SharpThe Cowboys have a good core of veterans such as Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Doug Free, but they lack quality backups.


After a third consecutive 8-8 season, you have to say age isn't a factor with the Dallas Cowboys.

The average age for the Cowboys in 2013 was 26.1, and that two veterans who didn't finish the season in Will Allen (31) and Brian Waters (36). In 2012, the Cowboys' average age was 25.9.

Coaching and a lack of quality depth hurt the Cowboys in most cases the last two seasons. You can blame Tony Romo's late interception against Washington in the 2012 regular-season finale or Kyle Orton's pick in the 2013 finale against Philadelphia as other issues.

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Whose health is most key to the Cowboys' success?

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But don't say the Cowboys were an old team.

If anything, the Cowboys should rebuild around some young pieces which include Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Dan Bailey and Barry Church.

Core veterans in their 30s such as Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, and other quality vets in their late 20s like Brandon Carr and Doug Free, are worth keeping around.

Finding quality backups is the key for 2014. When you have guys such as Corvey Irvin, Frank Kearse, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown as backups along the defensive line, it doesn't bode well for success.

The Cowboys have to fix their issues with finding undrafted players who can't play consistently, which was the case with safety Jeff Heath, at key backup positions.

Drafting quality players in the middle rounds should also help the Cowboys. It was something Todd Archer pointed out but the reality is age isn't and shouldn't be a factor for this team.

You can worry about Romo and his age -- 34 when 2014 regular season starts -- and health, recovering from back surgery, but the quarterback has young players to help him move the offense.

Coaching is a problem at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys currently have three -- head coach Jason Garrett, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and new play caller Scott Linehan -- who have been head coaches and play callers.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Team officials will say no.

But can these coaches, offense and defense, get the young core of this team to the next level?

If they can't, the numbers of not reaching the postseason will move to five years and counting.

Dallas Cowboys season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 17
Preseason power ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: The Dallas Cowboys did not believe they could have a worse defense than the one they fielded in 2012. They were wrong.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lost his job after the Cowboys finished the year ranked 19th in defense and allowed 400 points. The Cowboys not only switched defensive coordinators, they switched philosophies, bringing in Monte Kiffin to run a 4-3 scheme.

It never worked.

The Cowboys allowed 6,645 yards, 432 points and failed to deliver most of the time. They were hit by injuries, just as Ryan’s defense was, and poor play from big-name players such as DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Sean Lee was having a Pro Bowl-type season but hamstring and neck injuries forced him to miss most of the final seven games. Only Jason Hatcher, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church had representative seasons.

Biggest disappointment: It’s hard not to go with Ware, who had a career-low six sacks. For the first time he did not play in every game in a season, missing three games with a quadriceps strain. He also played with injuries to both elbows, a back strain and stinger. But the pick will be Miles Austin. Like Ware, he suffered through injury. He missed five games with a hamstring injury and was held without a catch in two games as he attempted to play through the strain. He finished the season with 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fewest catches he had since 2008 when he was a bit player and first time since 2007 he did not score a touchdown. The Cowboys hoped for a late-season boost when he returned but it never came.

Biggest need: The easy answer is to say upgrade the entire defense. They need help at linebacker and safety. The defensive line needs an overhaul. We talked about Ware’s status, but Hatcher, who had a career-high 11 sacks, and Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, are set to be unrestricted free agents. The Cowboys used 19 defensive linemen during the year and found solid contributions from players such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden, but optimally they play in reserve roles. The hits on the line started in April when the Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd, their fifth-ranked player, at No. 18 and traded down and continued when Tyrone Crawford tore his Achilles on the first day of camp. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in the offseason the defensive line was a strength. There is no way he can say that now.

Team MVP: By process of elimination it cannot be a defensive player because the unit was the worst in the NFL. DeMarco Murray would get votes for a second-half MVP. The contest comes down to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Romo missed the final game because of back surgery, but threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted only 10 times while throwing for 3,828 yards. Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth and finished with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. They made big plays at big moments. They had mistakes at big moments, too. As a result, they split the award.

IRVING, Texas -- When quarterback Tony Romo underwent season-ending back surgery Friday morning, he became the ninth Cowboys player lost for the season due to injury.

You could say it's 10 players lost if you want to throw in defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who said he hadn't recovered from a groin injury which prompted the Cowboys to release him. He subsequently signed with the Bears.

Of the other nine, Romo's departure is the biggest. A review of the injured:

Ben Bass: The defensive end was a projected backup to a unit beset by injuries. His shoulder is nearly healed and he should be ready in time for the 2014 season.

Ryan Cook: He was a longshot to make the roster, and when his back didn't heal enough for him to make the roster it was time to move on. It's doubtful that the veteran offensive lineman returns.

Tyrone Crawford: A torn Achilles in the first week of training camp ended the defensive end's season quickly and put the Cowboys in a bind at defensive line. Crawford is now doing on-the-field rehab work, so he should be good for offseason workouts.

Lance Dunbar: Injuries hampered his season. He was just starting to make an impact when he injured his knee in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving Day win over Oakland. The Cowboys like the running back's change-of-pace ability, and he should be given a chance to regain that role in 2014.

Justin Durant: The veteran just couldn't recover in enough time from a hamstring injury to help the linebacker corps. Durant was signed to play the strong side and he had good moments, but his health got in the way of making more of an impact.

Matt Johnson: Johnson hasn't played a down in his first two seasons. A hamstring issue his rookie season and an ankle injury late in training camp put him on the shelf. The Cowboys have to make a decision on whether it's worth keeping the safety around.

Tony Romo: The starting quarterback was knocked around at times this season but he showed an amazing level of toughness to finish the game at Washington last week while his back was throbbing. Romo is projected to return in time for the OTAs.

Anthony Spencer: Spencer's knee bothered him during training camp and the projected starter at defensive end underwent microfracture surgery after playing in just one game. He becomes a free agent after the season, so it will be interesting if the Cowboys offer him a deal.

Brian Waters: The veteran guard was a solid contributor in the five games he started before a torn triceps ended his season. Waters is unsure about whether he wants to play again. He turns 37 on Feb. 18, and the Cowboys might pass on giving him another contract.
IRVING, Texas -- Since moving back into the starting lineup on Nov. 3, right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau has quietly done a nice job in replacing an injured Brian Waters, whose season ended because of a partially torn left triceps.

Bernadeau
“He had some experience playing for us as a starter last year, and then sometimes when you get out of that role and you’re a backup you can watch and you can learn,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think he’s just getting better and better. The more he plays I think he gets more confident.”

Bernadeau started every game he played in 2012, and the first three games this season before Waters took over.

The Cowboys have had two of their better running games in the past two wins, against the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. They have 251 yards rushing on 50 carries in the past two games. In Bernadeau’s first two games back the Cowboys' running numbers weren’t bad -- 125 yards -- but they just did not run it much -- 25 carries.

“I feel like I learn something every week and have learned something since I’ve been here,” Bernadeau said. “Obviously I didn’t want to be taken out, but I was. Even when I was playing the first couple of games, I was learning and trying to get better. Even when Waters was in there I was trying to get better. In my mind it was a second chance, but I had the same mindset of just trying to get better every week.”
IRVING, Texas – Brian Waters has yet to have surgery on his triceps, but the veteran guard acknowledged he will more than likely go under the knife. Whether or not he has the operation will not factor in a decision to return next year.

“Whatever decision I make is going to be a long, drawn-out process, like it always is,” Waters said.

Waters
Waters did not join the Dallas Cowboys until Sept. 4, after about a month of talks with the team. He was a late signee with the New England Patriots in 2010. He did not play in 2011.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has said he would be in favor of Waters returning in 2014.

“I’m just trying to make it through this particular phase of this process and making a decision whether to have surgery or not and figuring out a timeline on that,” Waters said. “Then I’ll worry about that next situation after I go through the rehab and all of that stuff and figure out where I am physically.”

Waters will turn 37 in February. He moved into the Cowboys' starting lineup after three games, and started five games at right guard before suffering a partial tear of his triceps on Oct. 27 against the Detroit Lions.

Waters said he hoped the team could keep a roster spot for him if his arm improved by the end of the season.

“At the time it was definitely best, the team needed as many spots as possible because we were going through a pretty hefty injury situation,” Waters said. “That was ultimately the best decision that was made for the team.”

Leaving the NFL on his terms, and not on injured reserve, will be part of the decision.

“But sometimes you have to put your pride aside and do what is best for yourself,” Waters said. “Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. I have to make sure I’m doing what’s smart. And obviously I’m going to talk to the medical people and make sure medically, whatever decision I make, it’s the right decision.”

Midseason Report: Dallas Cowboys

November, 6, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- After nine games, the Dallas Cowboys have issues.

The defense can't stop a topflight quarterback. The offense can't -- or won't -- run the ball. Injuries have affected the offensive line, defensive line and secondary.

Yet with seven games to play, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-4 record. Can they join the conference elite?

Before that question can be answered, here's a look at how the Cowboys have graded out so far:

IRVING, Texas -- Try as Brian Waters and the Dallas Cowboys might, keeping the veteran right guard on the 53-man roster might be too tall of a task.

Waters
Waters is seeking multiple opinions on his triceps injury in hopes of playing again this season, but the Cowboys are in need of a roster spot and might be unable to wait.

"Doing a little more diligence and then we’ll make a decision probably, hopefully before the day is out," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Waters wants to attempt to play even if surgery is the inevitable option, but with injuries at other spots on the roster, like cornerback, the Cowboys are looking at placing him on season-ending injured reserve.

"He’s a pro,” Jones said. "He didn’t come back to get the proverbial check. I think he really came back to compete and make a difference, and he’s made a difference for us. Even if we don’t have him again, I think he’s made a huge difference in our room and made the guys around him better. Obviously glad we signed him. Very unfortunate what’s happened to him. But obviously we’re looking and seeing and making sure he wants to (see), if there’s any way he could play through this. But obviously, not totally optimistic there."

The Cowboys signed Waters on Sept. 4 to a one-year deal with a $1.5 million base salary. He could earn another $1.5 million in incentives. He has started the past five games, but will be replaced by Mackenzy Bernadeau.

"At one point, we were totally counting on Mackenzy," Jones said. "It’s great to have him. That’s one of the things that Waters brought to the table when we ultimately got him, was, it not only solidified the front, but it solidified our depth. We think Mackenzy can go in there and do the job."

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