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Eatman: With Market Set After Berry's Deal, What This Means For Church

FRISCO, Texas – When fans see Barry Church, the first number that obviously comes to mind is 42.

For good reason, too. There's no better way to identify a player than his jersey number.

As Church nears the final days of his contract with free agency to begin on March 9, it's likely the number 42 has come up in whatever negotiations have taken place or will take place.

See, 42 is also the number of safeties in the NFL who made more than Church last season. When looking at the average salaries per player by position, Church ranks No. 43 on the list. Just in front of teammate Byron Jones.

Well, I don't know a lot of things, but I can promise you this: Church won't be ranking No. 43 on that list in 2017. And it won't be too long before Jones makes his way up that list as well, but that's for another day – or year – to discuss.

For now, the issue is Church and just how much he's going to get on the open market. From the rumblings around here at The Star, he will indeed get the chance to test that market when free agency begins on March 9.

And you have to wonder how the latest deal from Kansas City, which re-signed Eric Berry to the richest deal in the NFL for a safety, will affect Church and the rest of the players at this position. Berry is now set to make over $13 million per season, topping Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu (12.5M annually).

After that, you've got Harrison Smith ($10.25M), Earl Thomas ($10M) and Devin McCourty ($9.5M) rounding out the top five. All of those players have made the Pro Bowl, a place Church has not been.

The reason I think Berry's deal will factor into Church's new contract is because it's a way of setting the mark. No, Church won't be getting that kind of money by any means, but you always want to know where the ceiling is. Berry's deal has provided that for now and other safeties can work their way into the mix.

Don't forget, this isn't Church's second contract. He's already done this before back in 2012 when the Cowboys signed him a few weeks after he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles injury. Limping into the executive offices on crutches, Church signed a four-year $8.827 million deal.

It was a safe bet for both sides. Church got some security despite suffering a difficult injury. The Cowboys got a rather cheap player who had to rehab.

As it turned out, the Cowboys got the better end of the deal as Church has been a defensive captain and one of the leading tacklers on this team despite having more than 40 players at his position earning more money.

Needless to say, he is probably going for the money this time around, and I can't say I blame him.

The question is, what's the market for him? He just turned 29 and had a broken arm last year, but hasn't really dealt with many injuries since the torn Achilles four years ago. My guess is that he probably works himself into the range of the top 10, which would be considerably more than $7 million per season.

Depending on how the deal is structured with the guaranteed money, the Cowboys could be players in that market, but they're going to likely want to stretch out the contract for more years so they can backload the deal.

You know the Cowboys would like to keep Church. No one wants to lose one of their best tacklers, who is a leader on the back end. This guy not only makes plays, but he's not afraid to get the others in line as well.[embeddedad0]

For some reason, I can't see him going to another team, but that's not based on any inside knowledge. In fact, the only thing I've heard is that he wants to test the market.

And with that, knowing that other teams have a lot more cap space than Dallas, you have to wonder if it's even possible for the Cowboys to keep him.

They're going to try. But at this point, they have to brace themselves for the possibility of a new starting strong safety next year.

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