For weeks, the Cowboys have been dancing around the issue of squeezing right tackle Doug Free to take less money in 2013.
The problem for the Cowboys comes from the money they’ve given him in the past.
For 2013, Free’s contract puts $3.02 million in prepaid bonus money against the cap. With his $7 million base salary, Free accounts for over $10 million in cap space this year.
Cutting him either after June 1 (or cutting him now with their one remaining post-June 1 designation for the year) would prevent future bonus allocations from hitting the current cap. Still, the Cowboys would carry $7.08 million in dead money on their 2014 cap, if Free is cut loose.
A pre-June 1 release becomes the equivalent of tearing off the Band-Aid in one motion, with the future cap charge exceeding by $80,000 the base salary Free would have earned this year. While it would save $7 million in cash and also clear him off the books, it’s not the best way to deal with a season in which the Cowboys have had $5 million in cap space stolen from them because they treated the uncapped year of 2010 as, you know, an uncapped year.
The delay likely is driven by a genuine desire to keep Free around at a lower salary, and to ensure that, if/when he becomes a free agent, there will be no one left to pay him anything close to what the Cowboys are offering.
With each passing day, the Cowboys’ leverage grows. At some point, that reported pay cut of $2 million will look like a bargain, because Free likely will have a hard time finding $5 million on the open market — especially since former Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo, a 2010 Pro Bowler who has missed only one game since the start of the 2008 season, recently got only $3.5 million on a one-year deal from the Dolphins.