- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- The tattoo on the underside of his forearm sort of sums up Brandon Carr. "BUILT CARR TOUGH," reads the tattoo, which is modeled after the Ford logo.
Carr is a grit guy who plays a glitz-and-glamour position. His old coaches sound like they're describing a trusty pickup truck when they talk about him, using words like dependable and durable and meaning them to be ultimate compliments.
He's a $50 million cornerback who doesn't come with much flash. He's the guy who couldn't get a sniff from Mid-American Conference schools, much less Big Ten programs, as a high school kid in Flint, Mich., who worked his way into being an NFL prospect at Division II Grand Valley State.
He's a fifth-round pick who felt like he had to fight to prove he belonged every day during his four-year tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs, even though he started every game since his NFL debut. He has kept the same mentality after cashing in the $10 million signing bonus from the five-year deal he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in March.
"You know what you're getting," said former Kansas City coach Herm Edwards, whose 54th birthday present from the Chiefs was getting to make the call on drafting Carr. "You're getting a guy you can count on.
"He's coachable. He's available. He doesn't miss games. He loves to practice. ... He's not the stock market. He's not going to be up and down. He's one guy you don't have to worry about."
Added Grand Valley State head coach Matt Mitchell, a defensive assistant on the two Division II national title teams that featured Carr: "He's not going to rest on that contract. He's going to fight and scratch and be the best corner he can be. That's who he is. It's very, very hard to outwork Brandon Carr."
Did the Cowboys overpay for a cornerback who has never been to a Pro Bowl? Perhaps, although owner Jerry Jones prefers to refer to it as paying "retail."
Carr will be considered a bargain if he can make the kind of impact Johnathan Joseph made after signing with the Houston Texans last summer. The Texans' defense improved from awful to outstanding while Joseph made the first Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
After being killed by poor cornerback play while missing the playoffs the previous two seasons, the Cowboys didn't think they could afford to fail to sign the 26-year-old Carr. That's why they arranged for head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to join Jones on the owner's private jet to pick up Carr as soon as possible after free agency opened.
The Cowboys wooed Carr at Cowboys Stadium, where he watched highlights of himself on the 60-yard big screen and was wined and dined with DeMarcus Ware and a few other Cowboys stars. He'd come a long way from being the kid who couldn't get an invitation to make the hour-long trip to visit Michigan's campus.
But Carr doesn't act as if he's arrived. Just listen to Garrett and Ryan talk about him, boasting about his work ethic as much as his talent.
"I play with that chip on my shoulder all the time," Carr said. "The cards that I've been dealt, I played them the right way. I didn't let any of the things deter me from reaching my dream, and that's getting to the NFL. Now that I'm here, I feel like I belong here. Every play, every snap, I'm going to go out and compete with whoever is across from me.
"I wasn't supposed to be here. That's what people say. I feel like I am supposed to be here. It's up to me make my name and make my presence felt."
So much has changed since Carr was considered too skinny and too slow to play big-time college football.
After four years of working in the Grand Valley weight room, Carr had prototypical size for a new-age corner and posted a 4.43 40-yard dash and 35-inch vertical leap as a guest at Central Michigan's pro day after his senior season. That was good enough to get his foot in the NFL door.
He has four seasons of starting NFL experience now, anonymous to the average fan while playing in small-market Kansas City, but well known to scouts. That was good enough to make Carr a rich man.
Now, for the first time in his football career, the national spotlight shines on Carr. The expectations rise for him as a featured addition to America's Team, where every play he makes will be magnified, every one he gives up even more so.
"Can he handle all that?" asked Edwards, now an ESPN analyst. "It won't affect him. It won't affect him one bit."
Consider that high praise for the Cowboys' high-profile pickup.
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