Cowboys make last-minute move bringing in Waters

NFL playoff contenders don’t often sign starting right guards off the street the week of the regular-season opener. But that’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys found themselves doing Tuesday with Waxahachie, Texas, native Brian Waters.

The 36-year-old retired after an excellent season with the Patriots in 2011. Waters had no intention of going through another training camp with a team, but he left the door open to signing with the Cowboys. They signed another retiree, Brandon Moore, in early August but he got cold feet and remained on the couch. It’s not a good sign when a team needs a player like Waters to become an immediate starter. He won’t be ready for the Giants game, but the Cowboys hope to have him on the field for Week 2.

Perhaps this will end the Doug Free experiment at right guard. It’s really unfair to ask a career offensive tackle to learn a new position on the fly when he hasn’t exactly mastered his original one. Waters was one of the best guards in the league for several seasons, but no one knows what he has left. The one real positive is that he’s known as a tremendous leader. Rookie center Travis Frederick will benefit from being around Waters for a season. I asked one longtime AFC scout for his take on Waters, who starred with the Chiefs.

“When he last played he was a steady, dependable performer who could still play at an acceptable level for his age,” he said. “He’s a short-term starter who before he left, was someone you could compete with, but I have no idea what he looks like after a year off.”

The Cowboys are now counting on Ron Leary to bounce back from a knee injury and start the season at left guard. They will just try to survive the Giants game with a fill-in right guard. The main cause for all this instability is whiffing on Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings in 2012 free agency.

It looks like the Cowboys have some foundational pieces in left tackle Tyron Smith and Frederick. But they have tried to get by with smoke and mirrors at the other spots. Jerry Jones’ offseason explanation that Tony Romo’s mobility gives the Cowboys a chance to succeed with lesser talent up front was laughable.

The Cowboys are frantically trying to upgrade the offensive line at the last minute. Why did it take this long?

That’s a fair question.