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Keep Plowing Straight Ahead

Cowboys have three very pressing issues to address, and now: Flozell Adams, Ken Hamlin and Marion Barber. The latter should be the least of their concerns. If they can't bat out a long-term deal - if they even want to now - the Cowboys will just send Barber the highest qualifying offer a restricted free-agent can get . . . a guaranteed $2.56 million. That reserves them a right of first refusal along with first- and third-round draft choice compensation if they choose not to match a signed offer sheet. And aren't you pretty certain a team isn't going to give up a first and third for Barber? And if one is willing, me, I'm all hands. Gimme. 

Adams and Hamlin are another story. They will become unrestricted dudes come 11 p.m. Feb. 28. The negotiating hammer is drawn, and draws a little higher since Thursday is the deadline for a potential franchise tag to be used on either. 

The tag on Adams would seem unlikely. That would cost the Cowboys $9 million on a guaranteed one-year deal. Now that's not prohibitive cash for a man building a $1.1 billion stadium, but when that amount represents well more than half your available salary cap space, no can do. The Cowboys then have nine days to get something done with Flo, and if not, possibly face or else

And while they might cavalierly say, you know what Flo, go see what market value is in free agency and then we'll talk, what if some team offers the soon-to-be 33-year-old a sweetheart deal with a take-it-or-leave-it caveat? Want to risk the loyalty factor should someone put a $15 million signing bonus on the table? Pro Bowl left tackles don't grow on trees. 

Sure, the Cowboys have the likes of Pat McQuistan and Doug Free in the wings. But neither has played an entire game of consequence in the NFL. Neither is a one-time Pro Bowler, let alone a four-timer. Would take a lot of nerve to allow the man who protects Tony Romo's blindside to walk when this club is so close to something big. 

And don't think he can be replaced in free agency. Have you perused that list? Yuck, with Cincinnati franchising Stacy Andrews and Carolina poised to do so with Jordan Gross and already having re-signed Travelle Wharton, Adams would become this year's free-agent cat's meow at left tackle. So to me, every $830,000 of cap space counts. 

Can't get distracted. 

Same with Hamlin, who won his one-year deal gamble with the Cowboys by earning his first Pro Bowl honor. What's his value on the open market now compared to last year's steal? And how important is the free safety when you are budgeting for the future, knowing you just paid your quarterback franchise-type money, just doled out $18 million in guaranteed money to your right guard, need to sign your left tackle, paid your center dearly last year at this time, will have a cornerback issue at least by next year if not sooner, a running back issue at least by next year and your two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has only two years left on his original deal? 

This does not even call attention to the problems Owens could cause if he starts fishing for a new deal this year, and the fact that you do own two first-round draft choices. 

So the Cowboys must ask themselves if Pat Watkins, heading into his third year, is ready to take over, and more than just from a playing standpoint, from an on-field boss standpoint. Does he have the innards to tell a Roy Williams what to do or where to be? Can he move Newman into place? Will he hold his guys back there accountable? 

If not, and the Cowboys either can't or don't want to sign Hamlin to a long-term deal, then they seriously must consider franchising him. That would cost but $4.396 million against the cap on a one-year deal to either prolong the cap agony or buy Watkins another year's worth of development. That you could stomach. 

So as you see, the lesson here once again this time of year is this: You can't stock every position with a first-round pick or an expensive free-agent signee. You can't trade for every Tom, Dick and Chad who says he wants to play for you. You can't spin your wheels - i.e., continue to spend your money - at the same position or divorce yourself from some guy you issued an $11.1 million signing bonus to not more than

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