Playing the role of Doug Free’s agent

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:

Cowboys 2014 cap number

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.

On Clabo:

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:

Clabo Dolphins

The Dolphins, as of April 23rd, had $9.2 million in cap space.

On Winston:

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.

On Justice:

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.

Conclusion:

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.”

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  6. […] Friday, I played the role of Doug Free’s agent. Free already had plenty of leverage even with Clabo still on the market. With the Cowboys’ […]

  7. mjoedgaard says:

    “Because, you see, if you cut my client, the new band-aid player that you sign is going to cost around $3-4 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.”

    This part is the reason why Free has all the leverage. If they cut him and sign somebody else, they actually end up paying upto 5 million more over the next two years than if they just kept him on the bench and the Cowboys do not have that kind of wriggle room next year

  8. draftmane says:

    Breaking News; 6’4 freak WR Darrin Moore just signed w/ the Boys ,If you dont know you better ask somebody!

    1. mjoedgaard says:

      Could be a decent slot WR in the NFL. Does not have the speed to play outside

  9. Take Dat says:

    Steal of the draft CB BW Webb,Baby!

  10. Dan in Philly says:

    I see your point, but there’s a reason that teams usually win negotiations with players and agents. Players have a short window and their rational decision would be to make as much money as possible.

    If he thinks that he will make 4.5 MM on the open market and the Cowboys offer him 4.5, he will probably take it since he just can’t take the chance that the team will cut him just to teach other players a lesson. Sure, it might seem short-sighted to make such a move on the Cowboys’ part, but if the player is convinced that Jerry Jones really is that dumb and spiteful (ya think?) then he’ll take what’s offered.

    The owners schooled the players in the lock out and I’m quite convinced they game theoried the living crap out of that lock out before it even happened and were pretty sure of the final result before the first hint of their plans became public.

    I’m pretty sure most teams’ FOs have experts who work this kind of thing out. With the kind of money at stake, they would be fools not to.

  11. Brian A says:

    Doug Free is a rich man’s turnstile. Once in a while you get blocked from passing through.

  12. Dan in Philly says:

    Good points from the agent’s perspective. However from the player’s POV, he may see all the RT FAs still without jobs, and ask himself: Do I want to make 3.5 Million next year, or $0? What does he care about Dallas’ cap situation?

    1. Well, to begin, he’s not going to make $0. Somebody would pick him up, and in that scenario he’s probably going to make at least $2 mil, possibly as much as $3 mil on the open market.

      He would care about Dallas’ cap situation because taking a $2 million pay cut (making $5 mil) is a hell of a lot better than taking a $4 million pay cut and making approximately what he might get on the open market. An understanding of the Cowboys’ cap situation would allow him to make the decision not to bend over and take a bigger cut than he needs to.

      1. poolboy87 says:

        Here’s the problem with that as far as negotiations, though. What does it really do for him? The Cowboys are on the hook for that dead money regardless of whether or not they cut him or keep him…and it’s bonus money that’s already been paid out, so even if they do negotiate him down, that’s money that’s stuck to the salary cap. And, it wouldn’t be ideal and there’s no way that the Cowboys would do it…but they could cut Free outright, eat all of his cap hit this year (making the move a wash, not saving but not costing them anything) and be okay. Right now, they’re sitting at about $4.5 – $5 million in cap space.

        I’d bet $100 right now that Lawrence Vickers is not long for this team, tacking another $1.2 MM on to that. Marcus Spears gives up $2 MM in cap money come June 1st.

        Not to mention that the new cap rollover system sorta dampens the concern with next years cap when it comes to cutting Free. If they don’t use all that space (who knows with them) then they’ll be able to roll the money over to next year, effectively canceling out his cap hit.

        I just don’t think either side has a ton of leverage in this negotiation. The Cowboys are NOT paying Doug Free a $7 million salary this year, but they can’t cut him and save money. He can either accept a sizeable pay cut or not, but he doesn’t have much in the way of ammunition to fight back. He’ll either be looking for that dollar amount with a new team (which is never guaranteed) or he’ll get it with the Cowboys.

        1. David_Does_Dallas says:

          I agree. Cowboys are probably in the 3-4 million range for a reduced salary, and the Doug Free camp is probably in the 5-6 million. I think they will meet somewhere in the middle because neither side has a high amount of leverage.

        2. RogerPodacter says:

          i think you are ignoring the fact that when he gets cut, he still gets paid. lets say he goes to a new team and signs for a lower figure of $2M per year.
          this year, he would make $2M (new pay) + $5M (half of the dead money) = $7M. exactly what he would have made with dallas.
          the next year? same thing. $7M.

          he wouldn’t notice the pay cut until 2 years later. maybe he gets a 2 year contract anyway?

          depending on what the cowboys want to pay him, he may be able to make MORE money by letting them cut him…

          1. RogerPodacter says:

            … or maybe not. as David_Does_Dallas says below, he has already been paid the bonus money and the only difference is the cap hit.

            then if i were him, i’d almost WANT to be cut to get more money!

  13. deg0ey says:

    Just for the sake of clarity, this ‘dead money’ that cutting Free would saddle the Cowboys with: Is that money they’ve already paid him that just hasn’t ‘gone through the books’ yet, so to speak, or is it money that he’s due and they have to pay him regardless of whether he’s on the team or not?

    If it’s the latter then he has no incentive to take a paycut of any description because he’s still gonna get paid whether he’s on the team or not. If it’s the former, he might be a little more receptive since whatever they offer him is likely to be more than he’ll get somewhere else.

    1. David_Does_Dallas says:

      He has already been paid, the cap hit was just spread out over his contract. If he is cut he won’t be receiving any money unless he is picked up by another team.

  14. Dez Bryant's Probation Officer says:

    World B. had a better year last year than Doug.

    1. Jimmy Kempski says:

      Ha

  15. David_Does_Dallas says:

    Tough situation. I wish we were more comfortable with Parnell, if that was the case we could cut Free and roll his 5 million savings this year to pay for his dead money next year (unless I am missing something). I agree with you, I think in the end he will take a reduced salary probably in the 4-5 million range. I think that would be palatable for both sides. As much as his agent can play hardball I don’t think Doug Free wan’ts to be on the streets or playing at vet minimum.

    1. Jimmy Kempski says:

      That’s correct. They could roll the savings to next year, which would cancel out the 2014 cap hit. Of course, if they were going to do that, they could just cut him outright now, although your way gives them money to play with just in case they need it.

  16. Biased!!!! Well reasoned and logical argument. I can’t wait to see this play out.

    1. DerfDiggy says:

      Wat?

      1. Just how the Cowboys/Free resolve this. Free doesn’t deserve 7 mil but the hit from cutting him isn’t palatable either. Either way they don’t have a good answer at RT.

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