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Friday, April 12, 2013
Cowboys need to make decision about Doug Free

By Calvin Watkins

The Doug Free watch continues with no news in sight.

Maybe no news is good news for the Cowboys right tackle. Or maybe it's bad news.

Free struggled last season, and now it appears his status is under closer evaluation as we approach the NFL draft.

The Cowboys' front office knows it has to do something with Free, especially after he split playing time with Jermey Parnell during the 2012 season. When you compare Free to other tackles across the league, his financial numbers don't match the quality of play.

He's got the fourth-highest salary cap number for 2013 at $10.02 million. In 2014, if he's still around, his cap number jumps to $11.020 million, second-highest in the league at his position.

The Cowboys haven't said how they will rectify Free's status. However, the Cowboys could release Free, making him a post-June 1 cut and save $7 million. The team did this with defensive end Marcus Spears and saved $2 million that won't be on the books until June 1. However, if Free is released, the Cowboys will have $7 million in dead money to carry on their salary cap for 2014.

It's a high price to get rid of an underachieving player.

The flip side to keeping Free is to offer him a cut in pay, something he could accept to salvage his time with the franchise. Free could decline the paycut and enter a free-agent market that has been slow for veterans who hope to find new teams and big money.

"I think there's more to it without trying to talk in riddles," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings recently. "There's more to it. That implies a decision after the draft on Free, and we may be doing things there with our offensive line before the draft, relative to Free."

The Cowboys had a discussion regarding free agent tackle Eric Winston but no visits or contract talks have occurred. Winston said recently on Sirius/XM radio he's looking for a contract worth $3 million to $4 million annually.

If that's the case, you might as well keep Free for that amount of money.

Of course, the Cowboys could wait until the draft and see if they can find someone willing to compete for a starting job with Parnell. There's nothing wrong with using young talent at the right tackle spot. The Cowboys are doing this now with Tyron Smith on the left side.

But at some point, a decision has to be made regarding Free.

"His skill is left tackle, as far as a lot of his value is concerned," Jones said of Free. "I could see us staying with him at his (salary cap) number. It’s not impossible, but I could see us staying at his number and sitting there with him or Parnell penciled in as the swing with Smith at left tackle and then going on out from there with the rest of the offensive line."