After what seems like forever without an effective offensive line (or four years, which is roughly equivalent in football terms), the Dallas Cowboys are trying to get things worked out with the signing of Brian Waters, who is expected to become the starting right guard as soon as he is back in football shape after his year-long layoff. The grizzled 36-year-old veteran signed a one-year contract. It is possible that he may be lured back to the Cowboys again if things work out this year since the one-year deal means he can skip training camp again and sign late the same way he did this year. But no matter how you look at it, he is primarily a short-term fix for the team.
However, his full contribution to the team may be felt for as much as a decade because no matter if he is around for one year or more, he is coming in to work with much younger players who will be learning from him and will carry those lessons throughout their careers.
Travis Frederick is a rookie. Ronald Leary is effectively a rookie after sitting out his first year. And Tyron Smith may be entering his third year with the team, but he is 22, the same age as Frederick. Those three players could be the core of the Dallas line for the next decade. Even if Leary starts having trouble with his knee condition, the other two should be around for a very long time. Now, in Waters, they have a player who made All Pro twice, went to six Pro Bowls in all, played in an AFC Championship game, and was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2009.
Let's just say when Waters talks in the offensive line meetings, people will listen. On the field, the young players will be seeking to emulate him and absorb as much as they can. There is a reason his accomplishments are sometimes referred to as his credentials, since they convey a huge amount of credibility to him. He garners that level of respect from the league at large, as the Payton award indicates, and as his involvement with the Kansas City Chiefs following the Jovan Belcher tragedy shows.
I have been in touch with players from the Chiefs all day. Brian Waters, a member of our Executive Committee, will be in KC tomorrow.— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) December 2, 2012
While it is certain that Waters has much more to give than to receive in this current situation with Dallas, the reports are that he did not come in with any attitude of superiority.
"This center is young and smart," 36-year-old guard Brian Waters said after his first practice with the Cowboys. "He's not going to need much help from me. I'm probably going to need more help from him than he's going to need from me."
It was a respectful thing to say, acknowledging that there are some Cowboys-specific details that the other linemen could help him with, but no one doubts what kind of a resource Waters really is.
"I already started picking his brain about everything," said Leary, who spent almost all of last season on the practice squad. "It's a blessing for him to be here for a young player like me, because he knows everything about the game. I'm going to try to get all I can from him."
It seems obvious that the younger players are already looking to him as the leader in the locker room and he shows every sign of fitting in well. Waters also provides help on multiple levels to the one experienced veteran on the line, Doug Free. Not only is he expected to line up beside Free, which has to lift the tackle's game, but I think Free has other concerns this year than trying to provide leadership. Just given his recent history, he lacks the kind of credibility that Waters walks in with, and I am sure he has some things he can learn from the All Pro as well.
Waters may not come back to the Cowboys after the 2013 season. But even if, as expected, he misses the first game and only plays in the following 18, his presence will extend for years and years to come. In some ways, his contract may be one of the wisest investments Dallas ever made, even if they almost had to be forced into doing it.
Oh, and he may be the best guard the team has seen since one Larry Allen. So there's that little benefit, as well.
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