Sign of the times

From a personnel standpoint, the Cowboys' top priority shouldn't be getting a receiver across from Terrell Owens or a backup quarterback or fortifying the offensive line. Priority No. 1 is Ken Hamlin.

It's that time of the year when teams are tightening up their rosters: signing draft picks and inking free agents. Some players already have been cut, either to create cap space or because of a lack of production, and many of those players are finding new homes, or at least in the process of making that choice.

From a personnel standpoint, the Cowboys' top priority shouldn't be getting a receiver across from Terrell Owens or a backup quarterback or fortifying the offensive line. Priority No. 1 is Ken Hamlin.

Hamlin erased any questions skeptics might have had after he was signed away from the Seattle Seahawks with a stellar debut season, in which he was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and second with five interceptions. He also was a stabilizing force in the secondary, and made significant contributions on special teams.

Hamlin wanted a big-money extension from the Cowboys, and the argument can be made that in today's market, he deserved it. But the team chose instead to give him the franchise tag – an honor that comes equipped with a one-year offer of just under $4.5 million. That's good money for a safety, but Hamlin has said he wants the security of a long-term deal, and he hardly can be blamed for that.

The fact is, however, that Hamlin must be happy, or at least comfortable with his current situation. A grumpy free safety is a dangerous free safety. That's not to suggest he wouldn't try, if he was "forced" to accept that salary for a year, and then enjoy the freedom of unrestricted free agency. But if he's angry about what he perceives is a lack of faith on behalf of the team, might he take chances on the field that he otherwise would forego?

A secondary can not have enough players who can cover and defend the pass, and Hamlin can do both. Terence Newman and Anthony Henry are among the premier cornerback tandems in the league. Pacman Jones might join that elite status, but can not yet be considered reliable. Mike Jenkins has the potential expected of a first-round pick, but must be proven. Patrick Watkins has the physical ability to defend the pass, but is far too inconsistent, and the team has admitted to the need to find ways to get around Roy Williams' shortcomings in the passing game.

He's never going to get the spotlight enjoyed by players like Tony Romo, Terrell Owens or DeMarcus Ware, but Hamlin is vital to the team's success this season. If that means Jerry Jones has to open the checkbook a little wider, then he needs to do it.

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