Richie Whitt, CBSDFW.COM

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Once upon a time this type of red-carpet recruitment was saved for splashy, special, super players.

Then: Deion Sanders. Now: Brandon Carr?

Yep, the Dallas Cowboys have fallen this far. Not that Carr isn’t a decent player and an above-average cornerback, but he’s hardly the missing link to a team destined for Super Bowls. Nope, Carr, who signed a five-year, $50 million contract last week, is merely the team’s latest guess to the gnawing questions of how the hell do the Cowboys stop the pass, and get back to the playoffs.

To acquire Carr, a 5th-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, the Cowboys gave him the Deion treatment. Well, not the unprecedented $35 million deal afforded Sanders back in 1995, but this …

Carr was picked up in Kansas City in owner Jerry Jones’ private plane, which was packed with head coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, secondary coach Jerome Henderson and assistant secondary coach Joe Baker. The plane flew directly over Cowboys Stadium, then once inside Carr was met by dinner guests named DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Sean Lee and Miles Austin.

Needless to say, Carr didn’t meet with any other teams.

“Yeah, it was great. I didn’t expect anything like that,” he said last week on 105.3 The Fan. “Everything was done first class. It blew me away.”

Carr, who will turn 26 next month, is a physical, 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback with a knack for finding the football in the air and actually knocking it away at its apex, ball skills totally lost on Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick the last couple of years. He immediately makes the Cowboys a better defensive team.

But is he enough to make them a playoff team?

“He’s a very nice piece to the puzzle,” Cowboys’ vice president Stephen Jones says.

After another disappointing season in which the Cowboys started 7-4 but finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs, they had to tweak – if not overhaul – a ridiculous defense. In two losses to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Eli Manning shredded the secondary for 68 points and almost 800 yards passing.

Carr will be one of the Cowboys’ starting cornerbacks in 2012. Newman will not be on the roster. There’s a start.

While our lasting images of Newman will be haplessly chasing the Giants’ Victor Cruz and being hurdled by a lumbering tight end named Bear Pascoe, the defense will have more new faces than just Carr. Also signed in free agency are linebacker Dan Connor and safety Brodney Pool. Connor, from the Carolina Panthers, will alleviate the imminent departures of over-the-hill veterans Keith Brooking and Bradie James while Pool, an underwhelming player with the New York Jets, could supplant Abe Elam as the starting safety alongside Gerald Sensabaugh.

On offense the Cowboys – a year after releasing veterans Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo – are again revamping their offensive line by releasing injury-plagued, seven-year starter Kyle Kosier. Mackenzy Bernadeau (20 starts in four years with the Panthers) and Nate Livings (47 starts with the Cincinnati Bengals) are veteran guards and Dallas signed Lawrence Vickers (Houston Texans) as a fullback upgrade over Tony Fiammetta.

Because they don’t trust Stephen McGee any more than they trust that Kony 2012 video producer, the Cowboys also inked veteran quarterback Kyle Orton to back up Tony Romo.

That’s seven free agents – plus the curious re-signing of unproductive receiver Kevin Ogletree – for a 2012 salary-cap cost of $13.5 million. Not bad budget shopping, especially considering the team was docked $10 million in cap space last week for circumventing the non-capped year of 2010 and signing Austin to a front-loaded contract. Of course sometimes you shop at Dollar Store and find bargains, and sometimes you wind up with crap that’s worthy of costing only 100 pennies.

After the first flurry of free agency, the Cowboys also improved by shedding the dead weight of kicker Newman, Fiammetta, Kosier, David Buehler, Martellus Bennett and receiver Laurent Robinson. Buehler was made expendable by the success of kicker Dan Bailey and Bennett somehow tricked the Giants into signing him despite not catching a touchdown the last three years.

Only Robinson is a painful departure. He was Dallas’ best receiver last season, a security blanket for Romo who caught 11 touchdowns despite not being in training camp or on the opening day roster. But with enough money to buy only primo position, the Cowboys wisely chose starting cornerback over third receiver. Robinson, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was simply a luxury the Cowboys couldn’t afford.

Heading into the draft there remain holes to fill. A third receiver better than Ogletree. A third tight end to supplement Witten and John Phillips. A center better than Phil Costa. Another pass-rusher, be it linebacker or defensive end. And, of course, considering their porous pass defense the last two seasons, another cornerback or safety wouldn’t hurt.

The Cowboys will look different in 2012.

Will they look any better?

(Copyright 2012 CBS Local. All Rights Reserved.)

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