IRVING, Texas -- Andre Gurode was warned, just like everyone else on the Dallas Cowboys. Under first-year coach Jason Garrett, jobs will be won and lost based on how players perform in training camp and preseason games, not by what they've done in the past.
The Cowboys cut the veteran center Monday for a variety of reasons that included his age and salary, his decision to have knee surgery so late in the offseason that it sidelined him for the start of camp, and the performance by an undrafted, unproven second-year pro in Gurode's absence.
"What we've said right from Day 1 is it doesn't really matter where you came from or what you've done in the past," Garrett said. "We're going to try our best as coaches and evaluators to see what you're doing right now and see what you can do for us going forward. We try to do that individually, we try to do that collectively. We're not in the business of trying to send a message to the rest of the team. We're trying to make the best decision for our team."
Still, the decision/message was clear to everyone, from veterans who might feel comfortable to rookie free agents who're still trying to prove themselves.
"That's the way it should be," veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said. "I think when you can create that environment and that message is sent throughout your team -- and it's not just a message, there are examples that run through the team -- I think that's a really good thing for everyone. That's what pushes you, that's what makes you better."
The Cowboys already had cut several other high-priced veterans, including linemen Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis. By adding Gurode to the list, quarterback Tony Romo's blockers will include three inexperienced linemen: Phil Costa at center, first-round pick Tyron Smith at right tackle and seventh-rounder Bill Nagy at left guard.
Costa is the guy whose strong play pushed Gurode out the door.
A hard worker as a rookie last year, Costa played in four games and started once, at left guard. He became the first-team center at the start of camp because Gurode was on the physically unable to perform list.
Gurode had a chance to reclaim the job once he was healthy, moving straight to the first team and starting in the second preseason game. But the Cowboys decided he wasn't so much better than Costa that he was worth keeping, not when they also could save $5.5 million against the salary cap by cutting Gurode. They liked the idea of finding out what they might have in a 24-year-old instead of relying on a 32-year-old who's coming off knee surgery.
"We felt like it was best move for us right now," Garrett said. "There's nothing purposeful in saying, 'We've got to get rid of all the old guys and sign all the young guys.' That's not what we're thinking. We're just trying to make our team as good as it can be right now."
Costa likely wasn't drafted because of his size. Even with a generous listing of 6-foot-3, 311 pounds, he's still an inch shorter and 23 pounds lighter than Gurode.
"But if you looked at him as a football player, you liked what you saw," Garrett said. "He is one of those guys because he is smart, because he is tough, because he is intense, because it's important to him. You see taking advantage of opportunities as well as anybody. He grew and grew as he was the starter in camp. It was hard not to like what he did."
Costa missed the last preseason game with a strained ligament in his right knee and won't play Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins, but Garrett said the center could be able to practice next week. The Cowboys are counting on Costa being ready for the Sept. 11 opener against the New York Jets. If not, options include undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski, who played the entire game last week against the Minnesota Vikings, or veterans Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland.
Holland has been out several weeks with back and knee problems, but he returned to practice Monday. Kosier and linebacker Bradie James were held out to give them extra time to heal from injuries.
"There will be challenges all over the place for them individually and collectively, and we have a long way to go and we're going to try to take advantage of these practices leading up to (the opener), but we feel good about the direction we're going," Garrett said.
Free said the linemen aren't a cohesive unit yet, but they're trying.
"Let's see what happens," he said. "We're just going to have to go with what we've got and make the best of it."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press