Cowboys probably think they can pay both Bowen and Hatcher for the price it would take to keep their former first-round pick and long-time starter.
Some within the coaching staff are big believers in Hatcher, but if I had to choose only one, I would like to keep Bowen. There may be a pretty significant market for him, however.
No surprise here, of course. The big question is whether the club has to find one new safety, or two. Gerald Sensabaugh, who Jones expressed a desire to bring back, will be unrestricted no matter what, and there are probably some teams who would like to have him coming off what was his most productive season with five interceptions.
Sensabaugh appeared to be out of place at times in 2011, and his 2010 season was arguably more solid, though it lacked the turnovers. It's quite possible that when the Cowboys evaluate him, however, they will decide he was hung out to dry by the cornerbacks or the other safety, Alan Ball, or the defense's lack of a consistent pass rush. Sensabaugh is open to returning, but has made it clear he wants a fair deal. He wasn't happy playing under the one-year tender he had in 2010.
Though the draft is a distinct possibility for finding the other safety, the Cowboys might be better served addressing that spot with a veteran. That would presumably ease the process of adding a new starter to the defense, and that player wouldn't have the same learning curve as a rookie.
1. Re-sign Doug Free
The Cowboys took a substantial risk by not franchising Free when they had the chance, a measure that would have kept the rest of the league away. They did give him first- and third-round restricted free agency protection, but if the salary cap returns, that won't keep him from hitting the open market. For some team in need of tackle help, what's not to like about a 27-year old with no real injury history who has blossomed into a very solid player over the last year and a half?
At the time they made the decision, the Cowboys may have thought that the franchise tag would have inflated Free's value unnecessarily, so they took a risk. It's also quite possible they could be cap-strapped, which would make it tough to compete in a bidding war if one emerged over Free. And considering the possibility that a reworked CBA might precipitate a spending spree among some teams, this was a dangerous decision indeed.
Whenever a new deal is worked out between players and owners, there is likely to be a brief period for negotiations before free agency officially begins. The most important thing the Cowboys can do this offseason is get a contract for their left tackle worked up during that time.