SETTING THE BAR: Doug Free’s price tag should hinge on incentives or escalators

dallas cowboys right tackle doug free - the boys are back blog

IRVING, Texas – Whether Doug Free is a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 or not, Baltimore might have come up with the price tag on whoever plays right tackle for the club this season.

The Ravens re-signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million, according to The Baltimore Sun. The maximum part of the deal comes in at a $3.5 million if he hits on incentives or escalators in the deal, so the actual average of the deal is less than that.

The Cowboys can use the McKinnie deal in their discussions about a pay cut for Free or in potential talks with unsigned vets Eric Winston or Max Starks (or any other semi-legitimate tackle available now). None of them are going to play worse than Free did in early 2012.

If we are to believe Stephen Jones, then Free is the Cowboys’ top choice to play right tackle in 2013. He knows the offense and should be better in the second year under offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Callahan. He played better in the final month of last season when he split time with Jermey Parnell.

Parnell’s only start came at left tackle on Thanksgiving when Tyron Smith was hurt and unable to play because of a short week of preparation. Over the last few weeks, the Cowboys – well, Jerry and Stephen Jones at least – have made it clear that it is time they start using younger players sooner, the way other teams across the league do.

The Cowboys picked up Parnell off New Orleans’ practice squad in 2010 but he was inactive for the 12 games he was on the Cowboys’ roster. In 2011, he played in six games but never took significant snaps.

The Cowboys gave him a $1 million signing bonus before the 2012 draft, hoping he could continue to develop from basketball player at Ole Miss to tackle in the NFL. He was active for every game last season but struggled early in the year when he was asked to play as the No. 3 tight end in short-yardage and goal line situations.

The Cowboys lived with Free’s struggles for the first 12 games before finally relenting and putting Parnell at right tackle on every other series.

Free is scheduled to make $7 million this year. Clearly the Cowboys will not pay that and Free has to know there is not another team in the league that will pay him that. The question is whether he would be willing to take a cut to $3 million or so. The Cowboys’ question is whether they would offer Free a chance to earn back some of the money through incentives.

Winston is on record he is seeking $3-4 million to play. If that’s the case, then that’s too rich for the Cowboys and most likely a lot of teams. But McKinnie’s deal would seem to help the Cowboys get their price on whoever they want to play right tackle this season.

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