"Patient" Philosophy Continues

Executive VP/player personnel Stephen Jones said the Cowboys still have a lot of work to do in the offseason to improve the team for next season. Mainly, the Cowboys are searching for upgrades at running back, right tackle and cornerback.

However, Jones said the Cowboys are not going to stray from the patient, let-the-game-come-to-them philosophy they employed throughout free agency.

"The draft will take care of a couple of those situations," Jones said. "But we just got to be patient and take our shots when we get them. When you are patient, you can take advantage of opportunities when they arise."

While the free agent market has dwindled, the prices are also coming down. And considering that more players will be added to the market through cuts and the Cowboys' positive cap situation, they can afford to be patient. Whatever they can't get done now, they hope to accomplish in the second round of free agency, starting June 1.

The Cowboys opened free agency with roughly $12 million available on the NFL's 2004 salary cap of $80.6 million. And though they have added three premium players in defensive tackle Marcellus Wiley to go along with receiver Keyshawn Johnson and quarterback Drew Henson, the Cowboys still have roughly $10 million in cap room available.

Wiley's four-year, $16 million deal includes a 2004 cap charge of just $1.78 million. Henson's eight-year deal that includes $3.5 million in guaranteed money did not come with a signing bonus. So only his $238,000 base salary will count against next year's cap. And the Cowboys will actually save money against the cap when they signed Johnson to sign a four-year, $20 million deal.

His cap charge will be $1.8 million. Add that to the $5.3 million in dead money they will be charged for the departed Joey Galloway, who was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for Johnson, and the receiver position will count roughly $7.1 million against the 2004 cap. That's a savings of right under $1 million considering Galloway's original cap charge for 2004 was $8.09 million.

Money aside, there is no question that the Cowboys have been improved by the moves they have made already, starting with Johnson, who believes his presence helps two positions: receiver and quarterback.

He and the team's newest quarterback are next-door neighbors in Tampa Bay, the minor league head quarters of the New York Yankees, who Henson played for the past three years. Johnson said he would do all he can to help Henson get reacquainted to football. However, he has also already taken a liking to incumbent starting quarterback Quincy Carter and has promised to make his life easier by giving him a go-to guy.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also likes what Johnson brings to the Cowboys.

"He brings competitiveness that will serve us well," Jones said. "He's an outstanding complement to the running game. And he will give our quarterback a top experienced receiver that is very good at moving the chains."

It's also not lost on Jones that Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler, played his best under coach Bill Parcells, when both were with the Jets. During that three-year stint from 1997-1999, Johnson caught 242 passes for 3,264 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Cowboys also feel good about the addition of Wiley, who is a certain upgrade from the departed Ebenezer Ekuban (Cleveland).

And whether Henson can compete for a prominent role this year or not, he certainly gives them another option for the future at quarterback. Anyone once projected as the top player at the position is worth taking a look at.

Still, the Cowboys may be in the market for another quarterback, considering there is no real experience behind Quincy Carter. They will take the next two months of offseason work, quarterback schools and minicamps to determine what Henson can do. They will also monitor Chad Hutchinson's play in NFL Europe to determine whether either could serve as a viable backup to Carter next season. If both falter, look for them go after a veteran during the second round of free agency, starting June 1. Vinny Testaverde will be cut by the Jets then.

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