Jones Wants to Win Now

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made no secret about his desire to win this year.

Owner Jerry Jones called last Thursday one of the "most rewarding, important and expensive days" in the history of the Cowboys.

No kidding.

When former Packers guard Marco Rivera completed his five-year, $20 million contract, it completed a day in free agency like no other at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters.

Combined with deals completed by former Jets defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and former Browns cornerback Anthony Henry on Wednesday night -- all three player signed their contracts on Thursday -- Jones handed out a record $28 million in bonus money alone.

Rivera, coming off his fourth straight Pro Bowl berth, got $9 million up front, while Ferguson and Henry got $9 million and $10 million, respectively in bonus money. The three deals make up three of the highest bonuses the Cowboys have ever given to a free agent from another team, topped only by the $12.9 million given Deion Sanders in 1995.

Add in the $2 million the Cowboys gave veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe last week and the total bonus money reaches $30 in the last seven days.

What it all says to Jones is the importance the team has placed on trying to win now.

"It would be wrong not to recognize this is a record for us," Jones said. "I think it speaks to our commitment to try to win now. It speaks volumes about our time frame when our expectations are to win. It explains more how strongly we feel about the Bledsoe move. If you do the Bledsoe thing and then not follow it up with big commitments then you are talking out of both sides of your mouth."

Jones said the Cowboys are simply putting their money behind their promises to overhaul last season's 6-10 roster by any means necessary.

The Cowboys entered the NFL free agency period with plans of being aggressive and striking fast.

Jones said the Cowboys have never been reluctant to spend money, despite not being aggressive in free agency last season. He said the decisions have always been about getting value and finding good fits at the right time. He said the Cowboys achieved their goal on all accounts with Rivera, Ferguson and Henry and are a better team for it.

"All you have to do is look at the past," Jones said. "When it comes to these types of decisions I will do what it takes to get us to a Super Bowl. It's about wining. It always has been about winning. We came in here with a plan and we are executing that plan."

According to vice-president Stephen Jones, the plan began with the signing of Bledsoe, 33, to replace Vinny Testaverde as the team's starting quarterback rather than going with unproven second-year man Drew Henson because of his familiarity with coach Bill Parcells.

The Cowboys then identified Thursday's signing threesome as their prime free-agent targets.

Ferguson and Henry give the Cowboys two new starters on a defense that finished 16th in the league last year. At 6-3, 305 pounds, Ferguson can play the nose tackle position if the Cowboys choose to shift from the 4-3 to the 3-4, while finally giving the Cowboys a run-stuffing wide body coach Bill Parcells has coveted since the last two years.

Henry, a four-year veteran, will provide consistency and continuity at right cornerback, where Pete Hunter, Jacques Reeves, Tyrone Williams and Lance Frazier alternated with no success last season. The nine-year veteran Rivera will anchor the right side of the offensive line as a replacement for the underperforming Andre Gurode.

While it seems the Henry signing is the correction of a mistake made a year ago when the Cowboys didn't spend the money for Antoine Winfield (Vikings), Stephen Jones said Henry is a better fit because of his size (6-1,205) and familiarity with defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, who coached him the last four years in Cleveland.

Familiarity played a role in all three decisions, considering that Ferguson was drafted by Parcells with the Jets in 1997 and Rivera came highly recommended by Cowboys guard Larry Allen, who has spent time with at the Pro Bowl the last few years.

"We felt these were three quality football players at positions we needed immediate upgrades in," Stephen Jones said. "We knew a lot about them. We knew these guys and we knew what we were getting into. That gave us a lot comfort when you are spending this type of money."

Also giving the Cowboys comfort was Ferguson and Rivera's durability. Teams normally don't spent those types of dollars on players over the age of 30. But Jerry Jones said those decisions were made easier because Ferguson has started 47 of 48 games the past three years while Rivera has started every game the past six years.

The moves were also made out of necessity, given Parcells' added experience with the players on the roster and deciding that some guys like Gurode and Hunter, the last season's opening day starter at cornerback, weren't going to get the job done.

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