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One for the Short List

I spent a lot of time during the Broncos-Pats game watching OT Tom Ashworth and liked what I saw. He will enter free agency this spring and should get a long look from Dallas.

Ashworth is not the biggest guy in the league, going 6'6" and 305 lbs., and should therefore not cost a fortune. He showed versatility by making his third start at left tackle against Denver. He's a right tackle by trade and had made his first 27 career starts there before injuries pushed him to the left side. He and his linemates kept the Broncos' front four at bay last night. Denver had to blitz heavily in order to pressure Tom Brady. Those blitzes forced Brady into some terrible second half throws, but Denver's linemen had little to do with that.

Ashworth is a survivor. The 49ers signed the undrafted free agent in 2001. The Pats claimed him off waivers the following season and Ashworth spent most of 2002 on the inactive list. He became a regular in 2003 and was the RT for a Pats team that won its final 12 regular season games. His line did not allow a sack in three playoff games.

A back injury six games into the 2004 season landed Ashworth on IR, but he rebounded this year, making 11 starts. He was the Pats RT for the first eight games before hurting a knee and missing three games. When he returned, he got duty at left tackle, spelling rookie Nick Kazur, who was in turn replacing starting LT Matt Light. Ashworth even got a start at tight end, as New England loves three tight end sets, and caught a touchdown pass. He also played a mean fullback in the Pats' goalline offense late this year.

The Patriots will probably let Ashworth go, since they have three other quality tackles under contract. Light, considered their best offensive lineman, will return next year from ACL surgery. Kazur was a first day draftee in 2004 who impressed the staff. Brandon Gorin, who replaced Ashworth in 2004 and 2005, is another cheap but effective street free agent GM Scott Pioli unearthed in 2002.

Dallas would love such a problem. Its tackles, Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker ignominiously ranked first and second among NFL linemen this year in sacks allowed. (Scroll down.)

Ashworth recently earned some TV face time in a Visa ad, as one of Brady's "five layers of protection." This spring the Cowboys might import the 28 year old grinder for Drew Bledsoe, who worked with four fewer layers for most of last year.

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