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Beating 'Em To The Punch

of the Cowboys - you would pray he spent that wisely, though in this game of speculation, there are no guarantees. Witten ($29.1 million) would seem a good bet. Gurode ($30 million) must prove not to be a one-year wonder. James ($20 million) must continue to improve. Williams ($25.2 million) must stoke a fire his $11.1 million signing bonus seemed to douse last summer. And Romo ($3.9 million) must prove his $2 million advance last summer wasn't just for a huge flash in the pan. 

But had Jones not anted up for these five players, the Cowboys would now be heading into free agency looking for one of each, and probably spending this type, if not more money on guys they don't know as intimately well. Worse, guys someone else didn't want or refused to sacrifice enough to keep. To me, it's better to keep your own instead of gambling on someone else's. 

While few were happy with 9-7 last year, and one-and-done in the playoffs, these five guys are the heart of a solid foundation. And then add to that the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, Marcus Spears, Greg Ellis, Jason Ferguson, Chris Canty, Akin Ayodele and possibly the likes of Julius Jones, Marion Barber, Patrick Crayton, Jason Hatcher, Kevin Burnett, Bobby Carpenter and McBriar, and you got something going for years to come. 

Now just use this year's free agency and the NFL Draft to complement what you already have. Just fill in a few holes, you know, like backup quarterback, offensive line, maybe safety and wide receiver since age is creeping in there. But there is little you desperately need. 

So when you start assessing free agency this year, do not forget the Cowboys got a head start. And remember, the head start isn't free. You do pay for the right not to negotiate against someone else for your guys. You do have to spend your money sooner. Hmmm, wonder what sort of interest-income you could get on $33 million over six months? 

And on top of all that, you have to budget well. Had the Cowboys gone off half-cocked in free agency last year when they had a bunch of available bucks, they would not have had enough cap space to sign these guys to early deals. Worse, they might have used up too much cap space for this year to be able to fit these guys under the cap. 

Now then, when you start spending the Cowboys' like $18 million of available cap space, please factor in Newman is entering the last year of his contract. Factor in Romo - if he is what they hope he is - entering the final year of his extension, will need a big contract. Know roster bonuses must be paid Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens. Know the starting running back is entering the final year of his deal. And unless they have done some real developing, a left tackle will soon be needed with Flozell Adams, going on 32, entering the final year of his five-year deal. 

As you can see, this is a fluid process, not a one-year fling. 

But much of the Cowboys' work in free agency this year already has been completed, done before Friday's bell goes off for the market's opening. And that's a good thing. 

If you think not, look around. There's some scrambling and teeth gnashing going on.                     

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