Had an interesting conversation last evening with a good friend of mine who's a true-blue Dallas Cowboys fan.
The name Mackenzy Bernadeau came up early and he mentioned the Marco Rivera as another free-agent guard acquired by the Cowboys who never panned out.
Since Bernadeau and Rivera were acquired the same way and for the exact same position, the similarities are easy to point out. But I zeroed in on the differences immediately because I do love a good debate now and then.
Rivera was signed in 2005, arriving along with other free agents like Aaron Glen, Drew Bledsoe and Anthony Henry in a flurry of spending by owner and general manager Jerry Jones. But just days after signing a five-year, $20 million contract, Rivera hurt his back while jogging on a treadmill.
Two years later he was released with severe back problems. Not much bang for the $9 million signing bonus on that one.
Yes, Jones took a bath on the Rivera deal. Whether it was bad timing or just bad luck, all that money spent on new faces that year led to a 9-7 record. It also marked a second straight season of no postseason play in what was the second-to-last season for head coach Bill Parcells.
But unlike Bernadeau, Rivera was a Pro Bowl talent who at least had a track record of being a key player in an offense led by Brett Favre in Green Bay.
Did the Packers know something that Dallas did not?
Doesn't matter now, but what's the deal with Bernadeau?
Bernadeau, who is not a Pro Bowl player, was the first player out of the Northeast-10 Conference (Bentley University) to ever be drafted to play in the NFL.
OK, I'll admit that I had no idea what or where Bentley was before Bernadeau arrived. Then again, I was one year old in 1972 when they started a football program.
Getting no playing time as a rookie in 2008, Bernadeau finally hit the field in 2009.
It took the Carolina Panthers, the team that drafted him, just three seasons to figure out that Bernadeau wasn't worth keeping around with a long-term extension.
Enter Jones, the billionaire.
Bernadeau, despite a limited volume of work on bad Panthers' teams that went 16-32 while he was there, was offered a four-year, $11.5 million contract last March.
Just two months later, Bernadeau underwent surgery to repair a tear in his hip, which left me wondering how exactly that issue was missed. Recovery time was estimated at 10-12 weeks.
Fine, but two months later, Bernadeau needed a knee scope in July.
Oddly enough, and despite missing most of training camp, Bernadeau went on to start all 16 games last season, which included a couple at center.
But it's completely inaccurate to state that his debut in the starting lineup in September was due to an incredibly fast recovery from those two operations, especially the hip.
Bernadeau looked awful over the first couple of months of the season before he finally seemed to settle in down the stretch. He looked better at center than anywhere else since his mobility resembled that of a slug at guard.
Now comes news that Bernadeau had surgery on his shoulder this week, a development that has only reinforced the belief that the Cowboys will have to focus on the offensive line in the first round of the upcoming draft in April.
Granted, this operation should not keep the five-year veteran out of action for as long as he rehabbed last summer, but am I the only one who sees a really disturbing trend here?
That's three surgeries, all on different parts of his body, in less than a year.
I had just reached the point where I had bought into the idea that, with a complete and healthy training camp later this summer, Bernadeau might be a capable starter for Dallas. It's true that Bernadeau was new to the team and the system last year and his health issues compounded those circumstances.
Fellow 2012 free-agent guard Nate Livings, who was fresh from Cincinnati, suffered the same thing without the injuries.
Continuity takes longer than one year, and the lack of that element also affected tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free, who both played different positions last year than the ones they did in 2011.
In other words, nothing about the Dallas offense line had success written all over it heading into last season.
But center Phil Costa is not the answer at center and Bernadeau looks like he's breaking down faster and faster. That's two of five offensive linemen expected to save the job of head coach Jason Garrett next season that have growing health questions.
In my last mock draft, I had the Cowboys taking defensive players with their first two selections. While I have always felt that Dallas should take an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft, I also know that the Cowboys don't always do what they should do.
Given the growing question mark that Bernadeau is becoming, I'm again leaning towards Dallas taking a player like Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina or Chance Warmack of Alabama with the 18th pick.
Rivera was much closer to bad luck for Jones and his scouting department.
But players like Bernadeau and the team's past commitment to the below-average Kyle Kosier, now retired, are just poor decisions that have really limited the Dallas offense for close to a decade.
Amidst all of the talk of a Romo contract extension, which could be very close now, pressure will be greater than ever to finally surround the franchise's all-time leading passer with an offensive line that will produce a serious running game and keep Romo on his feet and healthy.
Nobody, myself included, has any idea what Dallas will do in any round of the April draft in New York. But it's hard to imagine that the interior of the offensive line will not be addressed right away—and I don't mean at center either.
Bernadeau had better have one fine training camp if he plans on playing for the Cowboys, or anywhere else, in 2013. These health issues are not his fault, but football is a results-oriented business and the pressure is on like never before for Jones.
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