Free, Bowen, Kosier are keepers

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have until 3 p.m. Saturday to sign players to contract extensions and have at least some of that money count in the salary cap-less 2010 season.

Miles Austin’s contract signed in September was structured in a way that he was paid $17 million this year in base salary, while it goes down to $8.54 million when/if a cap returns in 2011.

The Cowboys have eight players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents if the old system is in place in a new collective bargaining agreement: Alex Barron, Stephen Bowen, Doug Free, Jason Hatcher, Sam Hurd, Kyle Kosier, Gerald Sensabaugh and Marcus Spears.

Of the eight, Free would be the biggest keeper. He has played well in his first year at left tackle and done more than to think he is just passable at the spot. If the Cowboys are not able to get a deal done with Free, they could always use the franchise tag on him. Under the system that was in place for 2010, Free would be a restricted free agent, and the Cowboys would put the first- and third-round tender on him, much like they did with Austin.

Bowen has done a nice job in replacing an injured Spears and his versatility makes him a keeper, too. I wrote last week that Kosier is worth keeping, especially if there are other moves to be made on the line.

Sensabaugh, Spears, Hatcher and Hurd are in the maybe category. I’d let them check out the market and see if you can get them back at a lower price. Barron, inactive last week for the first time this season, will not be back in 2011.