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Cowboys lock down two keys

Perhaps it was not a coincidence that on the same day the NFL owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union the Dallas Cowboys went to work with two of their highest-priority players.

On Tuesday, the Cowboys locked up cornerback Terence Newman and running back Marion Barber to long-term deals. They are still working on a long-term deal with safety Ken Hamlin, and the two sides are thought to be close, but no deal has been signed.

Barber and Newman were eligible to become free agents after the 2008 season.

Newman agreed to a six-year extension to the final year remaining on his contract. The entire deal is worth about $50 million.

Nearly half of Newman’s contract — $22.5 million — is guaranteed over the first three years of the deal, which is similar to what Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant received in March. The signing bonus is $12 million.

Barber’s deal is for seven years and could be worth as much as $45 million; it includes about $16 million in guaranteed money. On the chance the NFL and the union restructure the labor agreement, having both Barber and Newman signed to deals basically makes the Cowboys immune from losing either, as well as either contract having much of an effect on the team’s ability to move around under the salary cap.

For Barber, it was the payday he had hoped to receive since the middle of last season, when it was clear he was the team’s most productive running back. A fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft, he rushed for a career-high 975 yards in 2007 and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. In his career, he has 2,167 rushing yards with 29 touchdowns.

He will be the starter this season, and 2008 first-round draft pick Felix Jones is expected to back up Barber.Barber is expected to return to the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters to resume workouts.

Newman was able to sign the long-term lucrative deal he envisioned since free-agent cornerbacks began signing huge deals in the 2006 off-season. The six-year veteran is coming off one of his finest seasons in which he was named to his first Pro Bowl.

With these two players signed, the priorities for the Cowboys now become ’07 Pro Bowler Hamlin, on whom the Cowboys slapped the “franchise tag” to at least guarantee he will be signed for this season.

Hamlin has not been working out with the team at Valley Ranch, and he is not expected anytime soon.The biggest question, however, is linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who can be a free agent after the 2009 season. Given his production, he’s expected to command one of the biggest contracts at his position.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens also can be a free agent after the upcoming season, but the Cowboys have not made any significant move to re-sign him yet.