Yesterday evening, Mike Fisher of CBS Dallas reported that Doug Free anticipates not being with the Cowboys on June 1st. That is the first day the Cowboys can cut him and spread his dead money over this season and next, which would in typical Cowboys fashion put off the pain of a bad contract until a future date.
Mike has nuggets galore in his piece, and it is definitely worth the read in its entirety, but here are the major takeaways:
- The Cowboys want to “substantially” reduce Free’s pay. A source close to Free told Fisher that Free is unwilling to take a substantial pay cut. The key word here is “substantial,” which I’ll come back to.
- Fisher reports that “the Cowboys’ top-rated free-agent tackle is, by far, ex-Falcons stalwart Tyson Clabo. One source maybe optimistically says Clabo might settle for a one-year deal worth around $4 million. But his leverage in this situation (many teams still needing OT help) figures to earn him more – somewhere.”
- Eric Winston is on-record as saying he’d sign for one year and $3 mil.
- The Cowboys’ personnel department told Fisher that none of the available OTs (Clabo, Eric Winston, Winston Justice, etc) are major upgrades over Free.
What we already knew:
- Free was arguably the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman in 2010, got a big deal, was a disappointment in 2011, and outright stunk in 2012.
- If the Cowboys cut Free, they’ll incur dead money in the amount of $10,020,000. They can spread that dead money over this year and next if they cut him after June 1.
- The only player the Cowboys have who can pass as legitimate depth at OT is Jermey Parnell, a player with 1 career start and 277 career snaps.
There’s a general feeling among many Cowboys fans that Free does not have a leg to stand on. It’s either take a pay cut, or be cut. If/when the Cowboys cut Free, the consensus reaction will go something like this:
However, for a player who has been so bad the last two years, Free absolutely does have leverage, and if I were Free’s agent, I would be mindful of the following things:
1. While the June 1st cut remains a possibility, the Cowboys do not (or at least SHOULD NOT) want to roll dead money over onto next year’s cap.
The Cowboys have the most money in the league allocated toward their 2014 salary cap. Here is how they compare to the rest of the NFL:
If the Cowboys cut Free after June 1st, they would roll half of his $10 million in dead money this year over into 2014. In case you’re unfamiliar, dead money is essentially a figure that counts against your cap, but is not actually going to any players currently on your roster. By cutting Free, you’ll wipe a significant chunk of his 2014 cap number off the books, but that $5 million in dead money will still linger. For a team that is already going to be strapped for room under the cap as it is, that $5 million in dead money would be a killer.
2. The offensive tackles who are available all have significant warts.
Clabo is still a decent player, but he will be 32 in October, and the Falcons, who think they are close to a title, are seemingly willing to roll with second year player Lamar Holmes at RT over Clabo. Holmes has 7 career snaps. That is a red flag. Clabo also recently visited the Dolphins:
The Dolphins, as of April 23rd, had $9.2 million in cap space.
The Eagles were rumored to have some interest in Winston a few months ago, and I took a look at one of his games. I liked what I saw of him as a run blocker. However, that was just one game. My buddy Tommy Lawlor took a look at a larger sample size of his work, and came away unimpressed, noting that he would prefer that the Eagles take a pass on him in favor of current Eagles reserve Dennis Kelly. Again, this would be another aging player (he turns 30 in November) who is thought to be in decline.
The Colts wildly overpaid Gosder Cherilus (5 years, $34.5 mil, $15.5 mil guaranteed) to replace Justice. That’s a red flag. The Eagles had previously traded Justice and a 6th round pick to the Colts for the Colts’ 6th round pick in 2012. In other words, they traded Justice to move up 15 spots… in the 6th round.
In short, the other available options all come with serious question marks, and the best of the bunch (Clabo) may find better money than the Cowboys can afford.
3. Free’s pay should not be looked at in terms of “What are other OTs with similar skills getting?”
The great site Blogging the Boys estimates that Free’s pay should be lowered to somewhere around $3.5 million:
That $7 million figure for two years dovetails nicely with Doug Free’s salary, as Free is scheduled to make $7 million in just the 2013 season. Apparently, the Cowboys haven’t yet heard anything from Free’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, about whether they would accept a lower salary, but it’s probably fair to assume that if negotiations do start between the two sides, the starting point will likely be at around $3.5 million.
Here’s the reasoning:
Free’s base salary of $7 million would make him the highest-paid right tackle in the league in 2013. Tyson Clabo (31 years old) would reportedly be available at around $4 million, Eric Winston’s (29) going rate is probably around $3 million and Winston Justice (28) is probably in the same ballpark. It’s safe to assume Doug Free (29) would not make more than those $3-4 million, if that, with another team.
If I’m Free’s agent and the Cowboys shoved the market value of similarly skilled OTs around the league in my face, my response would go something like this…
(Clears throat). I. Don’t. Care.
Because, you see, if you cut my client, the new band-aid player that you sign is going to cost around $3 million against the cap, PLUS the $5 million in dead money for cutting Free. Therefore, you’re only saving about $1-2 million in cap space in 2013, and you’ll still have the additional $5 million in Free’s dead money sitting on your cap in 2014. Oh, and you’ll still have to fill that hole at RT next offseason.
It’s the aforementioned word “substantial” that would completely turn me off from entertaining even discussing a pay cut if I were Doug Free or his agent. Based on the situation the Cowboys have put themselves in by restructuring the contracts of so many players and dumping guaranteed money into 2014, they do not hold the cards in this situation. Free may very well end up taking a pay cut and staying with the team, but I would be surprised if it was anything “substantial.”