IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have said all along they want Doug Free back with the team in 2013.
As long as the price was right.
Apparently, it was right enough for both sides to agree on a reduced salary that will keep Free in the fold. Free has reportedly agreed to sign a new two-year deal that will pay him about half of the $14 million he was scheduled to earn over the next two years. Free's base salary is expected to be cut from $7 million to $3.5 million.
As for Thursday afternoon, nothing had been signed or turned into the league. The Cowboys are hopeful to finalize the deal by the end of Friday's business day.
But as for the negotiations, that appears to be settled, minus a few small details of the contract. The big decision Free had to make was agreeing on dramatically cutting his salary. That's a rather unusual practice in the NFL. In cases like this in which a team has evaluated the player far below his current salary, it typically results in an outright release. The Cowboys have limited options in terms of their right tackle position so simply cutting Free would leave them in a tricky spot, with only Jermey Parnell as the primary option.
At a lower price for Free, the Cowboys can have a legitimate competition between Free and Parnell, who rotated snaps for the final four games of last year.
Both coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones have said this offseason Free played considerably better near the end of the season during the rotation period. However, it doesn't seem likely the Cowboys prefer the two players to rotate on a constant basis. Free and Parnell will likely rotate during training camp to figure out the starter.
Free was scheduled to earn $7 million in base salary in 2013. Had the Cowboys released him before June 1, he wouldn't have counted against the cap and the club would've received no relief as well. Had they waited until June 1, the Cowboys would've saved $7 million this year, but then would count $7 million against the Cowboys' cap in 2014.