IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo is working on some special things for next season.
He just won't say what they are.
"I don't want to tell you just because they're important to me and I want to continue to improve in certain areas," Romo said. "But I'm pretty excited about a couple areas that are taking shape. I think it's going to allow me to take the next step this year, hopefully."
"It's a little deeper than (fundamentals)," Romo said, smiling. "It's good. I'll tell you guys about it later, once it comes to full fruition."
Maybe this secret project shows that Romo isn't letting his rising social status get in the way of his day job. Then again, that's a public-relations battle he's likely to face as long as he's an eligible bachelor and the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
"Just because they see you when you go out of town on the weekends, (they) don't realize how much time and effort you have to put in here," Romo said. "I have always felt like if I slipped in my effort one year to the next I feel like I wouldn't improve or take the next step. We're up here five days a week. We come up here at night."
Coach Wade Phillips backed him up on that.
"It's amazing, I think, to be in his position," Phillips said. "He doesn't miss anything. He hasn't missed any of our offseason the two years I've been here. I think that's special. When your top players are there all the time, I think it helps get all the other players there."
Romo even skipped a pro-am golf tournament for organized team activities. Phillips joked that was because Romo didn't want a repeat of his performance at a recent U.S. Open qualifying event.
"I think he shot a 40 on the front nine of that other tournament so that kind of turned him toward football more," Phillips said, laughing.
So football really is hurting Romo's golf game?
"Definitely," Romo said. "But it's been like that for a full decade."
Next Cowboy to cash in?
Now that the Cowboys have signed Marion Barber and Terence Newman to long-term deals, who's next?
Safety Ken Hamlin likely tops the priority list. He'll be back next season no matter what because the club made him their franchise player. However, both sides would rather have a multiyear deal than the one-year contract under the franchise rules.
"We spent some time over the last three or four days," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday. "Just couldn't get there talking to Hamlin's representative. We just couldn't make that work."
Jones said things did work with Barber and Newman because a lot of the parameters already were worked out in advance.
"We have more things to work out (with Hamlin)," he said. "We certainly want to get something done with him."
Defensive end Chris Canty is probably second. He's a restricted free agent.
And then there's Terrell Owens, who is going into the third and final year of his contract. However, he said Wednesday that he's willing to wait.
Part of the holdup for the Cowboys is the shakeup stemming from the change in the labor agreement.
"This now has become not only what we need to do right now before this season, but what we're going to do over the next two or three seasons," Jones said. "Because we've got different dynamics. This is a 36-month look at how we keep these guys who can work together. How we can keep this staff in place, in my mind, gives us the best chance to maybe getting ahold to one of those Super Bowls."
The rating game
Every offseason, Jerry Jones trades top-20 lists with about seven teams. He jots down their 20 players, in order, and they do the same for the Cowboys.
"They'd like to see what I think of their players and I want to see what they think of our players," Jones said. "It's an objective view. I'm sure they talk to specific people in scouting. ... It's a good way to get a consensus and kind of get a ranking sometime there -- Are you getting overzealous about a player? Have you gotten too infatuated with what that player might do in your scheme as opposed to just an overall look at him? I think that's what you get from that."
Jones has a group of teams he trusts. There's an easy way to find out who else to welcome to that club.
"If they come in with your top three in their bottom three, then you know they're jacking with you," Jones said, laughing.
Are there ever any surprises from the trustworthy bunch?
"Really, up at the top, no," Jones said. "As you get back down there past 15 or 20, then you get some variations from team to team."
Laughing, Jones added, "We get variations on our staff, too. We get variations from our scouting to our staff."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.