On the Bright Side, Keeping Doug Free Saves the Cowboys Cash Now and Later

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 17, 2013

Nov 6, 2011; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) in action in the third quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Seahawks 23-13.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Bad news, Dallas Cowboys fans. It looks like you'll be stuck with a Doug Free/Jermey Parnell combo at right tackle again in 2012. 

There is some good news, though. With Free taking a sizable pay cut on Thursday, the Cowboys have wiped a significant amount of money off the books for this year, next year, 2015 and 2016. 

Free was scheduled to make $15 million over the next two years, but that total has dropped to $7 million, with only his 2013 salary of $3.5 million guaranteed. The 'Boys probably could have had a free agent like Eric Winston for a similar price (and this move might even give them the flexibility to still make that move), but it also would have cost Dallas $7 million over two years to release Free on June 1. 

In other words, this is by far the cheapest scenario. I know that doesn't please Cowboys fans, but let's keep in mind that this is a team that is currently slated to be more than $20 million over the salary cap entering the 2014 offseason after reworking a slew of deals this spring. 

Jerry Jones and Co. have chosen a strange time to start thinking about the future, if indeed that's what they're doing here. But better late than never. 

And since we're all sunshine and lollipops this morning, let's consider that the Cowboys seemed to get better play at the right tackle spot once they started giving Parnell occasional reps in Free's place.

According to Pro Football Focus, Free's final three games of 2012 were his best all year. With Parnell stealing about a third of his snaps during that span, Free surrendered only one total pressure and zero sacks while taking no penalties. That's especially impressive when you consider that he was penalized a league-high 15 times over the course of the entire season.

The point is that the 29-year-old has it in him. We saw that in 2009 and 2010, and we got a glimpse of it again late last year. I wouldn't be expecting him to become a star now, and Parnell has his limitations too, but this isn't an apocalyptic development in Dallas.

The team won't sink or swim based solely on this move, and now at least they'll be in slightly better financial shape going forward.