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A Different Darren on the Cowboys' Radar?

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The New Orleans Saints are shopping franchised DE Darren Howard and Dallas is one of his potential destinations. The Saints asking price is said to be as little as a second round pick or as much as a first and second. The Saints have a logjam at DE and team officials are eager to find playing time for Will Smith, who earned All-Rookie honors with 7.5 sacks.

Howard ranked 11th in the NFL last year with 11 sacks, though he missed three games with a neck injury and played defensive tackle in passing situations.

For any trade to be consumated both Howard and the team acquiring him will want a long-term deal agreed upon beforehand. Even though the franchise tender for a DE -- the average pay of the top 5 DEs -- is $6.7 million, Howard would count just a fraction of that figure against the cap in the first year ('05) of any long-term deal. In other words, Howard can sign a long-term, big money contract without wiping out the 'Boys remaining cap space.

Howard has the size, versatility and unselfish attitude that Parcells loves, and he's one of the best pass rushers in the league. First and a second is a pretty steep price in terms of draft picks but Howard is one of the few players I'd consider spending that much for. Anything less is a steal. If there's any shred of truth to this rumor, Git-R-Done, Jerry!

Update: The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the Cowboys have emerged as the leading candidate to acquire DE Darren Howard. The Cowboys have been granted permission to negotiate a long term extension with Howard's agent, though another unnamed team also has that right. The Cowboys are one of at least seven teams pursuing Howard. The Saints are reportedly interested in one of Dallas' two first round draft picks in trade.

A trade for Howard could chill speculation that the Cowboys will switch to a 3-4 defense next year, unless the team deals one of its current linemen.

Update II: The Dallas Morning News is reporting Friday night that talks between the Cowboys and Saints have intensified, and that Dallas could send ILB Dat Nguyen and its second round pick, the 42nd overall, to New Orleans for DE Darren Howard.