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Cowboys Continue Makeover With Rivera Deal

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page D05

The Dallas Cowboys made their third significant free agent addition in two days -- and their fourth of the offseason -- when they agreed yesterday to a five-year, $20 million contract with three-time Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera, who'd spent his entire nine-year career blocking for quarterback Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers.

The Cowboys, coming off a 6-10 season, spent the first two days of the league's free agency and trading period playing the role usually played in recent years by the Washington Redskins. They are throwing around money and dramatically remaking their roster in a bold attempt to transform themselves overnight into a contender. They can only hope that it works better for them than it has worked for the Redskins.

Marco Rivera, left, is leaving Brett Favre, right, behind as he signs a deal to play with the Cowboys. (Mike Roemer - AP)

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"We have a plan," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at a news conference announcing Rivera's signing. "You know -- all you've got to do is look at the past -- that when it comes to these kinds of decisions, I'll do what it takes to try to get us to a Super Bowl. It's about winning. It's always been about winning."

Rivera's deal includes a $9 million signing bonus. That brought the Cowboys' two-day total to $29 million in bonus money and $66.5 million in total contracts.

They agreed Wednesday, as the free agent market opened, to a five-year, $25 million deal with cornerback Anthony Henry, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, that included $11 million in bonuses, and to a five-year, $21.5 million contract with defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, who'd spent his entire eight-year career with the New York Jets, that included a $9 million signing bonus.

Those deals were announced earlier yesterday, and Jones called it "one of the most rewarding days in the history of the Cowboys, one of the most important days in the history of the Cowboys and certainly the most expensive day in the history of the Cowboys."

The Cowboys started early in free agency by signing quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had been released by the Buffalo Bills, to a three-year, $14 million contract 10 days ago. The deal included a $2 million signing bonus, meaning the club's free agency totals for the offseason are $31 million in bonus money and $80.5 million in total contracts -- not even counting the $1.7 million devoted to re-signing two of its own free agents, defensive tackle Leonardo Carson and safety Lynn Scott, to one-year contracts. The Cowboys aren't done. Jones said they have the salary cap space to make more additions in free agency, and they have two first-round picks in next month's draft.

"If we join [the free agent signings] with the opportunity we have in this draft, then the face of this team has been changed," Jones said.

The Cowboys plan for Bledsoe to be their starting quarterback and for Ferguson and Henry to be major contributors to a defense that slipped to 16th in the league. It had ranked first in 2003, when the team went 10-6 and reached the playoffs in Coach Bill Parcells's first year with the club. And they plan on Rivera being a force on an offensive line that will be charged with protecting the immobile Bledsoe and opening holes for promising young tailback Julius Jones.

"I believe we're going to be the best offensive line in the NFL," Rivera, a member of the last three NFC Pro Bowl squads, said at the news conference.

The Packers lost both their starting guards yesterday, as Mike Wahle -- cut by Green Bay on Tuesday in a salary cap maneuver -- agreed to a contract with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera said that perhaps could weigh on Favre's mind as the quarterback contemplates whether to retire.

"He's probably going to think about that," Rivera said.

The Panthers also signed cornerback Ken Lucas, formerly of Seattle, to a deal believed to include $13 million in bonus money.

Making Moves

In other free agent moves, the San Francisco 49ers agreed to a seven-year, $36 million contract with left tackle Jonas Jennings, formerly of Buffalo.

Linebacker Morlon Greenwood, formerly of Miami, agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Houston.

Linebacker Chris Clairborne left Minnesota for a three-year, $10.5 million contract with St. Louis.

Tailback Derrick Blaylock, formerly of Kansas City, agreed to a five-year, $11.1 million deal with the Jets.

Linebacker Ian Gold, released by Tampa Bay, agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million contract with Denver a year after leaving the Broncos in free agency.

Safety Bhawoh Jue left Green Bay by agreeing to a three-year deal with San Diego. . .

The league is moving its draft a few blocks, from Madison Square Garden to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.

The NFL's contract with the Garden had expired and league officials didn't want to keep the draft in the arena's theater because the Dolan family, which owns the Garden, has aggressively opposed construction of a proposed stadium for the Jets in Manhattan.

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