IRVING, Texas– Brian Waters walked into the Cowboys' Valley Ranch facilities at 6 a.m. Wednesday after an exciting but laborious night, in which he worked out with the team, negotiated his contract and started reading the playbook.
The veteran guard recognized the scenery from the beginning of his career, when he was an undrafted tight end/fullback from North Texas trying to make the team. He dropped a pass from a backup quarterback late in the preseason and failed to make the final roster in 1999.
Now, 14 years later, he's entering the facilities again, this time as a six-time Pro Bowl guard playing for the head coach who threw him that pass. Jason Garrett's last year as a quarterback in Dallas was Waters' only year with the team, before he went on to become one of the league's best offensive linemen in Kansas City.
"Obviously, it worked out well for me," Waters said. "So I have no complaints about that."
The majority of Waters' work came with the Chiefs, where he played from 2000-10, but he also went on to play for the Patriots for a season in 2011. He didn't join their team until September, but he started every game and made the Pro Bowl.
Waters was under contract with New England last season but didn't play, citing personal reasons. He wanted to be closer to his family in Texas, which played into the hands of the Cowboys, who could use some help on the offensive line this year. Part of the decision for Waters to come back and play was the opportunity to stay near a strong support system with his hometown team.
"We just wanted to know what the story was and why he didn't play last year, and there was some family concerns that he had," Garrett said. "Again, he'd been working out, he kept himself in good shape. He's not much heavier than his normal playing weight, which we thought was a very positive thing. You just wanted to see where he was."
It can take a while for a 36-year-old who's been out of football for a year to get back into the kind of shape he needs to be. Waters said he has no idea at this point if he's close to playing at the level he was two years ago, and it's the team's decision if the Cowboys want him to play this weekend. He's got a ways to go after his first day out in the sun in pads, but he vowed to work as hard as he ever has in his career.
Waters stayed out the entirety of the 2012 season and said the year off made him hungry to return. He stayed in shape and as active as he could to put himself in a position to start playing again in 2013.
"I'm a football player and a big guy, so we work a certain kind of way," Waters said. "I wasn't out running miles, that's for sure. I wasn't turning into a marathon runner by no means, but as football players, we like to run fast and short and do it as many times as we can in a small period."
Evidently, he displayed enough in his workout for the Cowboys to sign him on, although it's unclear at this point when he'll be ready to start.
Waters already demonstrated he could enter a new location and play at a superior level, but he believes his situation in New England and the one he faces now in Dallas aren't completely alike. Waters didn't miss a season of football when he went to play with the Patriots.
"It's a lot different," Waters said. "This is not the same situation as New England. Most people are going to compare it to that situation, but it's not the same situation at all. Everything's different. The time off, the team, the program. It's just a different situation."
Waters at least knows a few players in the Cowboys' locker room. He played in Kansas City with Brandon Carr and did work with the NFL Players Association with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten.
He's also getting back in the league to play for a team he believes in. Waters described the Cowboys as a supremely talented team, one that's as talented a team as there is in the NFL.
"I believe that this team has been close to breaking through and being a playoff football team," Waters said. "Honestly, I think they've been really close to being a championship football team. The talent, the coaching staff, the organization in going up here were probably the things that attracted me the most."
And it's not just the staff and skill position players he believes in. He also thinks there's talent already on the offensive line. He said that anyone who thinks of him as some sort of a blocking savior is being overdramatic.
Waters is just excited to play the game he loves once again, and he hopes he can help take the team to where he knows it can go. [embedded_ad]
"They didn't need me. They wanted me, which felt good," he said. "I didn't particularly need to play football, but I wanted to play football, and we both wanted to have each other in our lives. It was just one of those things that we made it happen."
Quarterback Tony Romo is glad the two sides could find common ground. He'll now have a former Pro Bowl guard blocking in front of him once Waters is ready to go.
"The organization's done a great job just continually bringing in people that give us a chance to be a better team, and we'll go from there," Romo said. "I think Brian has a great track record. I assume he's going to come in and play just as well as he always has."