SETTING THE BAR: Doug Free’s price tag should hinge on incentives or escalators
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.
NO DESPARADOS: With this nucleus, the 2013 Dallas Cowboys may not need a free agency splash
The Dallas Cowboys have no cap room and aren’t signing anyone. Does it really matter? How desperate are the Dallas Cowboys, really?
Bryan Broaddus wrote about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he’ll fit into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan’s excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:
In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.
Jay Ratliff is part of a talented nucleus in Dallas that should contend for the NFC East title again this fall.
Think about it. Sure, Ratliff’s a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room. Worse yet, he was arrested and charged with DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.
Ratliff isn’t exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he’s worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.
On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.
The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.
Now, of course they need work. They’ve been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. The offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. They need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course Tony Romo’s reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. It’s too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team. It’s all doom and gloom in Dallas.
Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that’s a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it’s going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. You don’t have to agree with the perception that they’re in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. In part, because of last years splash, there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys’ roster. If properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, this a competitive team in 2013, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.
That’s worth keeping in mind.
Editors comments: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the highest payrolls in the NFL. There is a reason for this. They are loaded with talent. The team needs health on their side and a few pieces to break away from the 8-8 mold. Addressing the offensive line will allow the Cowboys to have an offense few can match, week-to-week. This Kiffin experiment has validity also, again … a few pieces are needed to execute on this side of the ball. This offseason, if the Jones’ focus on the trenches and a safety, this team has a chance. This is not a roster of desperation, it’s a core of players on the brink. Dallas doesn’t need another millionaire free agent. What they need can be accomplished on a modest budget (with a little more salary restructuring) … trusting the talent evaluators on staff, and a youth infusion through the draft.