- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Doug Free situation has finally reached its resolution. According to Calvin Watkins, Free has accepted a pay cut and will remain with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. ESPN's Ed Werder reports that Free agreed to a 50 percent cut, which would reduce his 2013 salary from $7 million to $3.5 million and save the Cowboys room against this year's cap. Ed also reports that Free is now scheduled to be paid $3.5 million in each of the next two years, with only this year's salary guaranteed.
Obviously, these numbers are much more palatable to the Cowboys than were Free's original contract numbers. Since signing his four-year, $32 million free agent deal after a strong 2010 season, Free has played as poorly as any starting tackle in the NFL. The Cowboys hoped a move from the left side to the right side in 2012 would help things, but it did not, and had he not agreed to the reduction, he likely would have been released. The fact that the 2014 money is not guaranteed is significant, as releasing Free prior to this agreement would have dumped a significant amount of "dead money" onto next year's cap.
The pay cut could allow the Cowboys to sign a free-agent tackle such as Eric Winston, and even if they don't, it's a lot easier on their budget and on common sense to pay Free $3.5 million than $7 million this year. It's possible he's the starting right tackle again and also possible he could share time with or lose the job outright to Jermey Parnell. If he has to be a backup "swing" tackle, his salary for a job like that is at least closer than it was to reasonable.
The Free contract goes down as a boondoggle for the Cowboys because of the way Free has played since signing it. At the time, Free was coming off a fine season as Dallas' starting left tackle and Cowboys fans were panicked about the idea of failing to re-sign him. The deal is in line with what top tackles on that year's market were getting, and he'd played like a top tackle. But obviously, his failure to live up to that season and that deal have put the Cowboys in a bad spot. They obviously didn't want to just release him, and even if they had they couldn't have recouped the salary-cap savings until after June 1. So while this compromise doesn't rid them of their Free problem, it at least makes it a bit of an easier problem with which to deal.
Calvin also reports that the Cowboys are signing veteran defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove for depth at that positon.