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IRVING Free agency is under way in the National Football League, but don t expect the Dallas Cowboys to be very active.

Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin said the free agent market isn't all that it s cracked up to be, anyway.

"The elite players don't get into free agency," Gosselin said. "Older players, injured players, underachievers... that's what you're looking at by and large in free agency."

Right now, the Cowboys don't appear to be in much of a hurry to sign any free agents, and even if they wanted to, they have virtually no space under the salary cap.

"The Cowboys have no money," Gosselin said. "This is the best thing that could happen, because that will keep them out of the free agent market."

Thanks to some creative financing, the Cowboys are back under the salary cap by freeing up more than $21 million. They did that by restructuring the contracts of linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten, cornerback Brandon Carr, wide receiver Miles Austin, center Ryan Cook, nose tackle Jay Ratliff, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and guard MacKenzy Bernadeau.

Among the players cut were safety Gerald Sensabaugh and linebacker Dan Connor.

"They did all these contracts. They got under the cap. They have no money. They couldn't sign a practice squad player right now," Gosselin said.

Another problem down the road is freeing up even more money so that the Cowboys can sign this year s draft picks.

That means a much talked about contract extension for quarterback Tony Romo to reduce his $16.8 million salary, and also signing linebacker Anthony Spencer to a long term contract. He signed his one-year tender today for $10.6 million.

"You look around the league, everybody is cutting players to get under the cap," Gosselin said. "The Cowboys are restructuring. The Cowboys keep pushing the problem back one year at a time. The problem never goes away. Eventually they're going to crash and burn. How do the Cowboys compete with no money, with a poor draft history, with the best teams in the NFL? You just don't see any short-term cure, or even a long-term cure for what ails the Cowboys."

Last year, the Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million contract, but unless there is a drastic change, no such deals are expected this year.

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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