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Cowboys active in free agency despite cap penalty

The Dallas Cowboys are sticking to their plans in free agency, acquiring primary targets even after being penalized by the NFL with a salary cap reduction.

Free agent safety Brodney Pool and linebacker Dan Connor agreed to deals Thursday, a day after the Cowboys reached a five-year deal with cornerback Brandon Carr and signed quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers and offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau to multiyear contracts.

"Obviously we've taken a big step," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Getting the cap hit, you have to deal with it and there's ramifications of that, but it's not going to stop us from being able to do the things we have to do to be a championship-caliber football team in 2012."

Dallas lost $10 million in salary cap space, and Washington lost $36 million, after the two teams were cited this week by the NFL for paying exorbitant amounts in the uncapped 2010 season to get more spending room for the upcoming season. The teams, which have denied any wrongdoing, can split the loss over two seasons.

Jones said the Cowboys would split the reduction, taking a $5 million salary cap hit this year and another $5 million in 2013.

What Jones wouldn't address Thursday was whether there is any way the team could appeal to regain the cap space. He also wouldn't say how much the team was under its salary cap of $115.6 million, assuming a $5 million reduction.

" That's irrelevant. What we have on a given day really doesn't relate to what you ultimately are going to have and how you're going to manage it," Jones said. "All I can tell you, we can make the moves we need to make."

When free agency began Tuesday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan were among team officials who immediately flew to Kansas City to pick up Carr and bring him to Texas for a visit to team headquarters and Cowboys Stadium.

Carr eventually agreed to a $50 million deal, including a $10 million signing bonus that is part of more than $26.5 million in guaranteed money

"I was blown away, from the initial plane ride to pick me up, to see the big star on the jet," Carr said in a video interview posted on the team's website. "I got to the stadium and it was everything that I imagined. Everybody's genuine and everybody's eager to get this thing going again. That's what I like and that's why I'm here."

A fifth-round pick in 2008 by Kansas City, Carr had 45 tackles and a career-high four interceptions last season. Carr, who turns 26 in May, started all 64 games for the Chiefs the past four years.

The deal with Carr came a day after two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman, a starter all nine of his seasons in Dallas, was released.

"Terence had a great career here, but it was time for us to move on from that," Jones said. "We felt like that was the No. 1 priority for us, to get a young corner with length and one that we felt has not only been a really good football player in the NFL but has an even brighter future."

Pool, who got a one-year deal, played the last two seasons for the New York Jets after five seasons with Cleveland, where he played for Ryan and the Cowboys new secondary coach, Jerome Henderson. In 100 career games with Cleveland (2005-09) and the Jets (2010-11), Pool had 365 tackles with 13 interceptions. He had 36 tackles and one interception last season.

Connor spent his first four NFL seasons in Carolina, where he had 75 tackles last season while starting 11 games. He got a two-year deal from the Cowboys and is expected to compete with Bruce Carter for the inside linebacker spot next to Sean Lee, a former teammate of Connor's at Penn State.

Veteran linebackers Keith Brooking and Bradie James, who primarily shared that spot last season, are free agents and unlikely to be re-signed by Dallas.

Orton, a six-year veteran who finished last season with Carr in Kansas City, signed to be Tony Romo's backup in Dallas following Jon Kitna's retirement after last season.

Dallas unsuccessfully tried to claim Orton off waivers last fall after he was released by the Denver Broncos when they decided to go with Tim Tebow as their starter. Orton, who followed Drew Brees at Purdue, was with Cowboys quarterback coach Wade Wilson in Chicago for two seasons (2005-06).

"He's a real pro," Garrett said. "He's been in some different quarterback situations where he's had a different role, and he's really seemed to handle it really well. He understands Tony is our starter and he's our backup."

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