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Wednesday, July 27, 2011
How much safety help can Cowboys afford?

By Tim MacMahon

SAN ANTONIO – The Cowboys’ front office accomplished its primary goal by locking up left tackle Doug Free to a long-term deal.

Addressing the safety positions isn’t far down the list.

Jerry Jones acknowledged in the middle of last season that the safety play was one of his primary concerns. That is still the case.

Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who had three of his career-high five interceptions in the final four games of last season, is an unrestricted free agent with hopes of getting a significant pay raise from his 2010 salary of $1.8 million. Free safety Alan Ball, who struggled all season, will most likely return to a reserve cornerback role.

That leaves the Cowboys with four second-year safeties – fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and undrafted Barry Church, Danny McCray and Andrew Sendejo – and some rookie free agents on the active roster. They like Owusu-Ansah’s athleticism, but he’s a Division II product who spent most of his rookie year on injured reserve. Church is a big hitter with good instincts, but he has below-average speed that might be exposed if he’s a starter.

The Cowboys will certainly attempt to acquire some veteran help.

"Obviously, we'd like to improve that position if we can," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "That's one of our priorities. It's obviously something we're working on. We'll see. Whether, it's one or two, I don't know the answer to that. It could be three. You have to see, at the end of the day, whether things are going to work out and what's available and what fits for us. We're still very confident we can get the help there that we need."

The problem is the price. The Cowboys had interest in Eric Weddle, but he committed to re-sign with the Chargers, getting a historic contract for a safety in NFL history (five years, $40 million). The Rams gave Quintin Mikell a four-year, $28 million deal.

"I think in any market, you have players who in the first part of it, right out of the bag, you see some deals that are big," Jones said. "They all can't make big money at the end of the day. There's salary caps. We knew that would probably happen. I wouldn't say we're surprised. It happens. I think at some point, as it has in the past, those things start to -- after everybody gets their main priorities where they were going to spend money -- then you have your next level and your next level, and those things work themselves out."

The Cowboys have also had conversations with agents for Sensabaugh and Abram Elam, who started for Rob Ryan’s Browns the last two seasons. There are several potentially more affordable options with starting experience on the market, such as the ex-Jet Brodney Pool and former Bear Danieal Manning.

The Cowboys’ interest in ex-Raider Michael Huff, an Irving Nimitz and Texas product, isn’t clear. However, Huff is likely to receive a contract in the Weddle/Mikell range, and it doesn’t sound as if the Cowboys intend to make that type of investment in a safety.