We’ve touched on the Dallas Cowboys and their cap woes many times and also on the reasons why RT Doug Free remains on the Cowboys, but since he is back in the news I just wanted to add some thoughts.
According to Mike Fisher the Cowboys are asking Free to take a salary reduction from $7 million to somewhere between $3.0 and $3.5 million. The number makes sense as it’s the same salary that is being received by fellow castoff Tyson Clabo, just recently signed by the Miami Dolphins. The question is would Free agree to take such a paycut?
Free’s contract is one of many that is a landmine for the Cowboys. If Free is cut his dead money charge is $10.02 million, exactly the same as if he was on the team. Considering the Cowboys need to replace him on the roster technically they will lose net cap space by a release. The team could defer $7 million in charges to 2014 by designating him a June 1 cut giving the Cowboys the room they need to function in 2013. While that sounds like a bad option for a team with a 2014 payroll that is going to be well over $145 million, the fact is that 2014 number already includes Free’s bloated salaries and was going to contain the $7 million of dead money barring a miracle anyway.
For all the grief I have given the Cowboys and their cap management I actually think their handling of the Free situation has been very well done. They allowed to let the market dictate a price for Free and by waiting have limited Free’s options if released. If Dallas would have approached Free earlier in the year the likely response would have been “why would I take a paycut”. Dallas was not in a great position to release him and Free could always have a chance of earning money elsewhere. For it to be worth Free’s time Dallas would have probably needed to meet in the middle, going for a $2 million dollar paycut. In essence Free is going to get paid extra money than he would earn on the market by agreeing to help the Cowboys salary cap.
Now Free’s options are less appealing. Teams have drafted tackles. Clabo just signed with Miami. Eric Winston is still floating around in free agency. This isn’t a scenario where Free can say “Ill just sign elsewhere rather than cutting you a break” anymore. $3 million is probably the most money Free can now get from anyone in the NFL. You may even be able to say that it’s a generous offer for Free to get this much money. So he is almost in a position where he is stuck to take the paycut because he has almost no leverage anymore.
From a cap perspective Dallas’ best option might be to hope he can turn things around and actually fully restructure both 2013 and 2014. If Dallas is willing to pay Free $3.5 million this year then they are willing to commit $13.54 million in cap dollars over the next two years to Free, made up of a $3.5 million salary and $3.020 million proration in 2013 and $7 million in dead money in 2014. If Free would be willing to take a $3.5 million salary in 2014 Dallas could save a few dollars in overall cap and maintain Frees spot on the roster. I have no idea if Free would agree to that but its worth considering. Dallas’ cap problems are always going to lead to deferrals of cap charges but Dallas may be able to do themselves some good to get their 2014 more manageable now.
What would I do? Free is so bad I would probably use the June 1 designation on him and sign Eric Winston who would probably play for the same amount of money. I see that as a 1 year upgrade and will result in the same cap charges as Free taking a paycut now and then being cut next season, which is the most likely scenario. The one thing that I would never do is add more prorated money to the contract under any circumstances. I don’t think the Cowboys will do that but with them you never know.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.