Cowboys big contracts: Booms and busts

IRVING, Texas – If you called Jerry Jones cheap after the Cowboys dumped Patrick Crayton, perhaps an apology is in order.

Miles Austin’s six-year, $54 million contract extension is the latest evidence that Jones is more than willing to spend big money for players he considers essential to the Cowboys’ success. It’s the 15th contract with a face value of at least $20 million the Cowboys have awarded since 2006.

The Cowboys have experienced some boom and some bust with those massive deals. Here’s a look at the Cowboys’ recent $20 million club, grading each contract on a five-point scale.

ILB Bradie James (five years, $20 million): He has his limitations, but James has led the Cowboys in tackles the last five seasons. He’s also a key leader in the locker room. He’s very reasonably priced for a productive player who is a positive influence on his teammates.

GRADE: 4.25

TE Jason Witten (six years, $29 million): The perennial Pro Bowler is a bargain. San Diego’s Antonio Gates, who is two years older than Witten, just signed a six-year deal that pays him more than $7 million per season. Tony Gonzalez is the only tight end in the league with more catches and yards since Witten signed his contract in 2006, and Witten is a significantly better blocker.

GRADE: 5.0

C Andre Gurode (six years, $30 million): He didn’t have his best season last year, but he still made his fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. He has rare power for a center.

GRADE: 4.25

RG Leonard Davis (seven years, $49.6 million): His $16 million signing bonus, a club record at the time, raised a lot of eyebrows, but the Cowboys had to outbid a couple of NFC East rivals. Davis, considered an underachiever after the Cardinals drafted him No. 2 overall in 2001, made the Pro Bowl all three of his seasons with the Cowboys. Like Gurode, he took a step back last season, but he can be one of the most overpowering offensive linemen in the league.

GRADE: 4.25

QB Tony Romo (six years, $67.4 million): The Giants’ Eli Manning and Chargers’ Phillip Rivers signed six-year extensions worth more than $90 million in the last year, making Romo’s contract appear extremely friendly for the Cowboys. He hasn’t reached the Super Bowl standards set by Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman for Cowboys quarterbacks, but he’s on the verge of elite status.

GRADE: 4.75

NT Jay Ratliff (five years, $20.5 million): He’s the best bargain on the team. Ex-Cowboy defensive linemen Chris Canty got a six-year, $42 million deal last year from the Giants, so just imagine what Ratliff would demand on the open market. The Cowboys were wise to lock up the former seventh-round pick in his first season as a starter, and Ratliff isn’t complaining about a contract that will allow him and his family to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. But at some point, it will make sense for both sides to negotiate a new deal for arguably the NFL’s best interior defensive linemen.

GRADE: 5.0

WR Terrell Owens (four years, $34 million): T.O.’s production justified his first contract with the Cowboys. The second deal ended up being a disaster. Jones tore up the last year of T.O.’s first Cowboys contract and gave him $13 million up front to keep him happy. He didn’t even make it to the next season, with Jerry ultimately deciding to divorce the prima donna after all sorts of drama in a disappointing season.

GRADE: 1.0

FS Ken Hamlin (six years, $39 million): The Cowboys got suckered, overpaying after Hamlin had a career season on a one-year make-good contract. He had a total of one interception in two seasons after signing the deal. The Cowboys cut him and promoted inexpensive Alan Ball because they wanted more playmaking from that position.

GRADE: 1.0

RB Marion Barber (seven years, $45 million): Drew Rosenhaus convinced the Cowboys to pay Barber like an elite back despite the fact that he’s never rushed for 1,000 yards. Barber was determined to cash in on a Pro Bowl campaign – he rushed for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns off the bench in 2007 – and pressed the issue by refusing to show up to Valley Ranch for offseason workouts. He got his money, but his production has plummeted during two-injury ravaged seasons as a starter. It’s unlikely that he’ll see the final four seasons of this deal.

GRADE: 2.0

CB Terence Newman (seven years, $50.2 million): Nagging injuries slowed Newman down in the first season of this contract, but he stayed healthy all last year and returned to the Pro Bowl. We’ll see how much the 32-year-old has left in the tank, but he’s in excellent condition and had an outstanding training camp. He might be overpaid, but there isn’t regret about this deal coming from the Valley Ranch executive’s offices.

GRADE: 3.0

LT Flozell Adams (six years, $43 million): Like Hamlin, Adams was gone after two seasons of his extension. He made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and was adequate in 2009. He was deteriorating rapidly in his mid-30s, causing the Cowboys to cut him and give his job to 26-year-old Doug Free.

GRADE: 1.5

WR Roy Williams (five years, $45 million): He describes his one and a half seasons in Dallas as a nightmare. The Cowboys drastically overpaid – in draft picks and dollars – for a receiver who hit the 1,000-yard milestone only once in five seasons in Detroit.

GRADE: 0.5

RT Marc Colombo (four years, $22 million): The language in the contract protects the Cowboys in case Colombo breaks down, and unfortunately, that appears to have been a wise move by the team. Colombo was voted the team’s offensive MVP in 2008, earning the extension. But he missed seven games last season due to a broken fibula and torn ankle ligaments, and he’ll miss at least Sunday’s season opener due to his recovery from surgery to remove five loose particles from his right knee. When healthy, he’s a brawler whose attitude sets the tone for the offensive line. Will he ever really be healthy again?

GRADE: TBD (1.5 based on results so far)

OLB DeMarcus Ware (six years, $78 million): Ware asked to be paid like a franchise quarterback. He accepted becoming one of the richest defensive players in NFL history. He’s worth every penny. If he’s not the most dominant defender in the NFL, it doesn’t take long to call roll before his name comes up.

GRADE: 4.5

WR Miles Austin (six years, $54 million): If he’s a one-year wonder, this is a big whoops. But the Cowboys are extremely confident that wasn’t the case, fully expecting that his breakout Pro Bowl campaign last season is a sign of things to come.