The likes of Wigan Athletic and Ipswich Town have splashed the cash this summer and have secured some eye-catching signings as a result.
According to Cowley, the wages on offer are now double what they were two years ago – giving those teams significant financial firepower as they look to beat rivals to deals.
That leaves other clubs with a decision to make.
"We have two options,” he explained, speaking to the Portsmouth News.
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"We can sign players who aren’t good enough to take us where you want to go or you have to hold, wait and keep your nerve and hope more players become available and better value in the market. We hope that happens.
“It’s the only choice we have because ultimately we can’t compete with some clubs in this division.
“You’re looking at the top end of the division this year and it’s gone crazy. It’s gone crazy financially.
“I’ve lived this league with Lincoln just two years ago and the top teams are paying double what they paid then.
“We’ve got brilliant owners who are doing things sustainably, which is absolutely the right thing to do. But when you do it in a sustainable way you have to do it in an intelligent way.
“We have to try to work the market. We have a clear strategy and a clear idea of the type of players we want to bring in and a clear idea of the quality we want to bring in.”