All Eyes on Larry

Whether a water cooler gathering or sorority house slumber party, gossip sessions of this magnitude pale in comparison to the NFL's version of the National Inquirer, especially this time for the year.

A rumor mill fit for kings, and the guessing games have started while speculation runs rampant. Who covets whom and who the heck is going where? Make absolutely no mistakes about it, the NFL brass, League-wide, loves this stuff. It's all about smoke screens and back room deals. Welcome to Indianapolis where more deals are cut over St. Elmo's steak and shrimp than Heidi Fleiss' lifetime of back point arrangements. In fact, the speculation fog is so thick; it takes a prudent business knife to cut through the abyss.

For argumentative purposes, let's shelve could have, should have and would have for business practices 101. The case study for today's lesson? Ten-time Pro Bowl participant and sure-to-be Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame candidate and recipient, Larry Allen. The mainstay, anchor and only Super Bowl holdover on the current Cowboys' roster. Quite simply, Larry Allen has been an institution since being drafted 12 years ago out of tiny Sonoma State, and LA's college venue is the only thing remotely tiny when assessing his contributions to the Dallas Cowboys.

All of which makes the current front office assessment all the more difficult. One of Jerry Jones' most endearing qualities and attributes may also be his greatest inhibitor when it comes to player evaluation timeliness. Loyalty. Anyone who's played for the man has always been most thankful of his support, trust and compensation. In turn, Jerry has always stuck with and rewarded "his" stars. Larry Allen certainly passes every aspect of the Jones' loyalty test, however, Big Larry's star personae is starting to show a little tarnish and road wear.

From a purely economic and business (never forgetting the NFL is defined as big business) standpoint, it's time to address Larry Allen. By all accounts, the Cowboys are trying their very best to build back to both competitive and championship levels. When the light in the tunnel brightens or draws nearer, the decisions become more rapid, critical and necessary, all-the-while more difficult, too. For starters, and at a minimum, Larry Allen must take a pay cut to remain in Dallas.

There are many factors making this "must" improbable if not impossible. First, he has skins on the wall. Ten-time (eight of which are legit and two based on merit) Pro Bowl participant and a Super Bowl winner. He starts. He anchors the quarterback's blind side, and when your signal-caller is Drew Bledsoe, blind side anchor takes on a higher calling. He still blocks better than ¾'s of his peer group. Secondly, Marvin Demoff, Allen's Agent, has never been big on taking one for the team. He's a good Agent and gets his clients the coin, but his track record does not suggest rate reduction is imminent. Strike two. Lastly, Jerry loves Big Larry and his 700 lb bench press abilities. Jones may have been the sole (and soul) conduit in the Parcells vs. Allen riff and tiff a few years back. It was Allen for whom Jerry took a personal stroll from the owner's suite to the sideline to coax and coddle his mammoth guard back to the field of play.

So, do the Cowboys still need Larry Allen and his services? Altogether now, yes. However, Larry must concede to continue wearing the famed blue star. Will he? It will take a ton of negotiation and salesmanship, but there's no one better in a one-on-one than Jerry Jones. If the rarity of Jerry not being able to close the deal occurs, the good news is there are viable alternatives.

Seattle screwed up. They would have been prudent to franchise tag left guard Steve Hutchinson. It most likely would have cost them less money than they're likely to incur should they try to secure his services for years to come. By placing the transition tag on him, they've allowed themselves the opportunity to speak last to an open-ended bidding war, but if they decide not to meet or exceed the highest offer Hutchinson receives, there's no offsetting compensation for his loss. Big mistake.

If you're the Cowboys, and you're already on the proverbial hook for "substantial jack" to be paid to your left guard, why not position yourself to get six years younger without sacrificing Pro Bowl stature and productivity? Seattle has allowed Dallas to enter the sweepstakes, and this allows Jerry to swing a pretty potent negotiation hammer in the direction of Allen and Demoff. The only major issue surrounding an Allen release or trade is the signing bonus escalation and cap adversity. It could have rather stout financial implications, but why not take a "big faces" hit while you actually have the cap space in which to operate?

This is not an indictment of Larry Allen in any shape, way or form. It's the cold, hard reality of life in the NFL. Both sides of the negotiation table bring sufficient and ample ammo to the showdown at the Valley Ranch Corral, and it appears there will be no easy answer or solution. It's hoped both sides can walk away feeling they somehow won the compensation duel.

The offensive line is certainly a top two priority for 2006, and Allen headlines a unit that possesses more questions than a game of trivial pursuit. First round Draft choices are rarely spent on guards, and when it comes to Cowboys' Draft history, rarely are offensive linemen taken with the first selection, but there's a feeling Max Jean-Gilles (Georgia product) is going to be a force and NFL mainstay for years to come. If salary cap escalation wasn't such a huge factor, and Larry Allen was willing to play for a few less million dollar peanuts, the plea would go out to jettison Rivera, eat the cap impact, sign LeCharles Bentley and draft Max Jean-Gilles. Yes, right tackle is still most volatile, but gut instincts say the year two version of Rob Petitti will be of Hyde nature to the first year Jeckell. With Flozell's return to the battlefield, the up-the-gut pressure, which causes Bledsoe to stagger and succumb, would be curtailed mightily.

So, how about it Larry? In the name of continued progress, are you willing to take one for the employer?

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