Price Tag Soaring for Vinatieri, Free Agents

Entering the third day of free agency, the Cowboys will have to pay premium dollars to land the kind of player to help get them back to the Super Bowl.

Darren Howard just made $30 million.

Antwaan Randle El looks to be over $30 million richer today.

Brian Williams is already in the books with $32 million.

Bart Scott has his $13 million.

No this isn't a press release announcing the latest Power Ball winners from around the country. It's the NFL's crazy world of free agency, where career back-ups are now earning incredible amounts of money with new teams.

Williams started nine games and played in 14 games last season for the Vikings. He had four interceptions, 46 tackles and 11 passes defensed. He also had nine special teams tackles. He wasn't even considered a fulltime starter, and yes- he just signed a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars for $32 million.

Randel El, who is coming off a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers, barely caught 30 passes last year, yet still signed a deal with Washington for over $30 million.

Get the picture?

If the Dallas Cowboys want to sign any player with a resume that has "multi-year starter" written on it, they'd better be ready to pay.

Look again at Minnesota. The Vikings just extended the biggest free agent contract in team history to a player from outside the organization when they offered Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson a 7-year, $49 million contract.

Hutchinson is a quality player, no doubt. And he was high on the wish list of many teams, but seven years? $49 million?

And that leads us back to Dallas, where the team is still looking to find a quality veteran kicker, maybe a linebacker, a free safety and perhaps even an elite-level wide receiver.

First and foremost on that list, at this point in free agency, has to be help on special teams.

Unfortunately, available help is dwindling fast. Two key free agent targets- K Ryan Longwell and K Matt Bryant are long gone. So is Joe Nedney.

That leaves New England's Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis' Mike Vanderjagt, Atlanta's Todd Peterson and Minnesota's Paul Edinger as unrestricted free agent targets, and Seattle's Josh Brown as a possible restricted free agent pick up.

Clearly, as the league's top clutch kicker, Vinatieri leads this list. But at what cost?

It was believed before the start of free agency that Vinatieri would set the market at the position, however without a deal in place, Longwell has already signed a 3-year deal with the Vikings for $10 million. Bryant has also re-signed with Tampa Bay (terms were not disclosed).

And word is out of New England that Vinatieri was "disappointed" with Longwell's $10 million deal.

That can't be good.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has already indicated he isn't interested in breaking any compensation barriers when it comes to signing a veteran kicker. And as reported on this site for weeks now, many expected Vinatieri to command somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million/year. Could it possibly take more money to sign him now that these insane numbers are being thrown around to average-at-best players?

The thought itself is mind-boggling. Yet put yourself in Jerry Jones' shoes. You entered free agency with over $20 million in cap room. You've signed (up to this point) a reserve guard and are close to signing a decent linebacker with starting experience for one of the league's top defenses. You still have plenty of cash to throw around, but there could be bigger fish on the horizon.

Do you pay Adam Vinatieri that kind of money?

One published report has linked the Cowboys to Mike Vanderjagt, the Colts' half-crazed kicker that would give Dallas another Keyshawn Johnson-type-personality.

How much money would it take to sign him? Probably not as much as much as Vinatieri, especially after he missed a game-tying 46-yard field goal against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year.

But then again, isn't that the point of signing a "quality veteran kicker?" Shouldn't he have made that kick instead of showing up on David Letterman a few days later to joke about it?

Whatever the case may be, the Cowboys still need help at the position.

Whether it's the high-priced Adam Vinatieri, the half-crazed Vanderjact, or a guy like Paul Edinger, who has made a few game-winning kicks during his tenure in Minnesota but was still an afterthought by the organization this year, a veteran kicker must be brought in this off-season.

Just don't be surprised when it comes at three times the expected cost.

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