Ball, in mix to start, signs tender

DALLAS -- Defensive back Alan Ball, an exclusive rights free agent, signed his tender offer with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday.

Ball, a seventh-round pick in 2007, will make $545,000 this season. He is considered the front-runner to replace released veteran Ken Hamlin as the starting free safety, although owner/general manager Jerry Jones plans to explore other option in the free-agency market.

Ball was drafted as a cornerback and split time between that position and safety last season. Ball's size (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) is a concern at safety, but he performed well in four games that Hamlin missed with an ankle injury, a factor in the Cowboys' decision to release Hamlin.

"When you play Alan Ball, you aren't surprised by anything he does well," coach Wade Phillips said last week. "He has played well for us every time he has played."

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.