Proceed With Caution

IRVING, Tex. - The first day of free agency around the NFC East was, at best, weird.

The New York Giants, traditionally the least aggressive spenders in the division, drew first blood by agreeing to terms with former Arizona safety Antrel Rolle. The Philadelphia Eagles, believed to be one of the contenders for Julius Peppers, made news by … releasing linebacker Will Witherspoon (yawn). The Washington Redskins, who normally burst out of the free agency starting gate with a spending spree that rivals the gross national product of some small countries, stayed awake long enough to sign one of their own: offensive lineman Mike Williams, who barely made an impression last year (other than in the headlines for his well-chronicled weight loss).

The Dallas Cowboys, so far, did nothing — didn't sign anyone, didn't cut anyone, didn't trade anyone. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Maybe, just maybe, owner Jerry Jones is learning. If it proves that both he and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder both are learning, then it's time to watch for flying pigs and check the temperature in the Earth's core.

Jones and Snyder have both, at times, treated their squads like fantasy football teams. Jones loved the spotlight he enjoyed when he brought big-name players like Deion Sanders to Dallas. So too did Snyder, when he shelled out big bucks for big-name has-beens like Bruce Smith and, well, Sanders.

But their silence Friday was as significant as Chicago's un-Bears-like spending spree that brought defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor to the Windy City or the Baltimore Raven's theft of wide receiver Anquan Boldin. (Boldin and a fifth-round pick for a third and a fourth? Really? How did a lot of teams not top that offer?)

Part of Jones' non-action surely is due to the Final Eight restrictions, that prohibit teams that reached the quarterfinals in each conference's playoffs from signing more than one large free agent contract, and from that contract significantly exceeding the money spent by another team luring a free agent away. But the fact that Valley Ranch has been completely silent is been somewhat surprising.

The Cowboys' priority, as it should be, appears to be re-signing its own free agents, such as wide receiver Miles Austin, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and at least two of their three free-agent defensive ends: Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and/or Stephen Bowen.

The Cowboys really don't need a major upgrade anywhere, except for kicker, where they are expected to give David Buehler every opportunity to add field goals and extra points to his duties as the team's kickoff specialist. What they do need is depth at several positions, although in addition to free agents and rookies, an infusion of talent will arrive in the form of those players who missed all of last season with injuries, including offensive lineman Robert Brewster and linebackers Jason Williams, Stephen Hodge and Brandon Williams.

Dallas likely will remain relatively quiet on the free agent market, choosing instead to draft new talent and develop the players who were hurt last year, as well as other promising youngsters, like wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, tight end John Phillips and defensive back Mike Hamlin.

It might not have the sizzle of some of the first-day moves other teams made, but it is exactly the plan the Cowboys should be taking as free agency starts.

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