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Eatman: Wondering How Free’s Contract Might Affect Dez

Posted May 22, 2013


When Doug Free agreed to restructure his contract last week to remain with the team, it made me think over the years how many times this has happened when a player took a direct pay cut.

I couldn’t recall an instance. I’m sure it’s happened in a different way. Maybe a team moves money around to lower a cap hit or turns some base salary into more incentive. But this is the first time a situation has been so public, where the Cowboys were as up front about it. Jerry and Stephen Jones repeatedly said this offseason that they wanted to reduce Free’s base salary into a situation that made sense.

Simple translation tells us the Cowboys evaluated Free as a player who should be making about half of what was his scheduled $7 million this year.

OK, that makes sense. I think we all agree to that and perhaps Free did as well. I actually applaud him doing this because most of the time, pride gets in the way. A team trying to reduce a player’s salary happens daily around the NFL, but typically it results in a player getting cut, signing with a new team, and usually for a price lower than he was making with his initial club.

So I think it should be noted that Free handled the situation as well as anyone could expect, and better than most I’ve seen.

But seeing how the Cowboys are openly saying Free was underperforming his contract, it makes me wonder if it goes both ways.

What about a player who has outplayed his salary. We all remember the Emmitt Smith deal 20 years ago when he sat out for two games before they agreed on a new contract.

The Cowboys have previously signed players to long-term extensions before their deal is up. Tony Romo did it this year and we’ve seen it with DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and others as well recently.

But my question relates more to Dez Bryant.

Does his agent see what just happened with Free and think about the flip side? Bryant caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He made a lot of his big-time plays in the fourth quarter and even delayed finger surgery down the stretch when his team needed him most.

Calvin Johnson aside, you can argue Dez was as dynamic as any other receiver in the NFL last year. The guys in Atlanta were great, and better as a tandem, but from a fear-factor and the ability to take over games and physically out-athlete the competition, Bryant is right there with anyone.

All that being said, his $1.557 million base salary seems a little low.

Sure, he’s got off-the-field concerns that might keep him from landing a long-term deal until this contract expires, which occurs after the 2014 season. Dez is obviously a rare case. But what happened with Free might just open the door for other players to take pay cuts if they’re underperforming. It also might allow players such as Dez the leverage to get a new deal if they out-perform their current salary.

Like Bill Parcells would say, there are two sides to every pancake.

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