The Skinny On Free Agency

Indianapolis. Ray was pretty quiet. Didn't say much. Just let his play talk. Ended up going to the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the Cowboys and emerged as sort of a leader on that offensive line. 

4. Ryan McNeil: This guy proved to be a real find at cornerback in 2000, helping to fill the void left by Sanders' release for health concerns and salary cap reasons. Was a sure tackler, led the club with 13 passes broken up and tied for second with two interceptions. Let's put it this way: The Cowboys wished dearly they could have kept him, but salary-cap constrictions forced their hand. He parlayed that one season in Dallas into a pretty significant contract with San Diego. 

5. Rocket Ismail: What a receiving combo this was going to be, Irvin on one side and the still speedy Ismail on the other for the 1999 season. And for three games it was, the Cowboys 3-0 heading into Philadelphia. Irvin had nine catches and three touchdowns in those first three games. Ismail chipped in 13 and two. But unfortunately, Irvin went down in Game 4, never to play again, short-changing the Cowboys' receiving corps. Still, Ismail, with the coverage all sinking his way after Irvin's departure, came up with a career-best 80-catch season. He was never meant to be more than a complementary guy, but had to take on a lead role. Tore his ACL in 2000, but returned in 2001 to lead the club with 53 catches playing with the team's assortment of rag-tag starting quarterbacks that year.   

Honorable Mention: Rodney Peete, Jeff Robinson, Richie Anderson, Dan Campbell and Akin Ayodele (so far).   

Top Five Free-Agent Disappointments 

1. Mike Vanderjagt: Choosing the veteran kicker is next to shooting fish in a barrel. Far too easy. But you know, for all the grief the Cowboys have taken for some past drafts, they have generally been very good in free agency. Vanderjagt, who came advertised as the most accurate kicker in NFL history over his eight-year career with the Colts, was given a $2.5 million signing bonus. If not for that bonus, he might not even have made it out of training camp. Vanderjagt was that inconsistent, and then came down with a groin injury. Hesitant to trust him much longer, having made just one of four attempts between 40-49 yards during the regular season, the Cowboys released him after 11 games. That decision will cost them to eat like $1.666 million under the cap this year. 

2. Paul Justin: This was only the start of an agonizing search for capable quarterbacks, one the Cowboys hope they have solved with Tony Romo. But seven years ago the Cowboys signed the St. Louis backup to a one-year deal, thinking he would replace Jason Garrett as Troy Aikman's backup in 2000. Not so much. That was on April 7. By June 8 the Cowboys got such cold feet over the backup spot they talked Randall Cunningham out of his tile business in Las Vegas to sign on. And by Aug. 24, the Cowboys had released Justin, who they fortunately signed to just a one-year, $440,000 deal with a chance to make $60,000 in bonus money. His departure made room for Anthony Wright and Clint Stoerner on the roster that year. How that revolving quarterback door has continued to spin. 

3. Everett McIver: The Cowboys somehow milked two years (1998-99) out of the guard who was coming off 14 starts in Miami in 1997. His flame-out had more to do with injuries and the infamous Scissor-gate incident with Irvin that initial training camp (1998) at Midwestern State. The two got into a fight in the dorm while waiting their turns for a haircut, and McIver ended up getting stabbed in the throat with a pair of barber sheers. While he still earned a starting job that year, McIver would play only six games, first suffering a sprained MCL and then a season-ending torn ACL. He returned to start 14 games the next year, but the Cowboys never bothered to re-sign him after his two-year deal expired. 

4. Ryan Young: Tiring of Solomon Page at right tackle, the Cowboys brought in the former Jets starter under Bill Parcells for the 2003 season. Bad move. Young evidently was not re-signed by the Texans for good reason. He had a degenerative knee problem and was able to start only seven of the first 10 games, and then just

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