Cowboys center Gurode agrees to six-year contract

The Dallas Cowboys, fresh off their hiring of head coach Wade Phillips as Bill Parcells' replacement, resolved their top free agent priority by reaching agreement on a six-year deal with center Andre Gurode.

Terms on the contract were not immediately available, but it is safe to assume Gurode has become one of the highest-paid centers in the league. The start of free agency is only two weeks away and Gurode and New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara were going to be a hottest free agents at their position. To get Gurode off the market, the Cowboys had to strike the right kind of deal and did just that.

Gurode's agent, Kennard McGuire, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Negotiations with the 6-foot-4, 314-pound Gurode began last week and turned hot and heavy during the weekend. The Cowboys wanted to maintain continuity along their offensive line but faced the possibility of losing Gurode at center and Marc Colombo at right tackle. Gurode's backup, Al Johnson, is also a free agent.

The Cowboys drafted Gurode in the second round in 2002 and he's been starting since his rookie season.

Matt Birk of the Vikings is the currently the league's highest-paid center at $4.3 million per year, but the 2007 market should take the price of top centers above $4.5 million and possibly to $5 million annually.

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.