No Dallas Cowboys’ player’s offseason has been more strained than Doug Free. The months normally reserved for rest and relaxation have been a nonstop barrage of media speculation, financial uncertainty and fan disapproval for the embattled right tackle, and the latest report has only made his status murkier.
For those who haven’t been following the saga, Free led the NFL with 15 penalties last year. He counts $10.2 million toward the 2013 salary cap. Dallas has requested he take a pay cut, implying that he could be next year’s starter at a reduced price. If they cut him after June 1, the Cowboys spread the loss over two seasons, crediting $7 million in potential free-agent-signing money to the 2013 books.
The problem is the timetable. Free agency windows shrink daily, and with each day Free holds out, the chances of Dallas upgrading his position diminishes. Premiere free agent Tyson Clabo bounced to Miami, veteran Bryant McKinnie re-signed with Baltimore and negotiations with former Chief Eric Winston appear to have flamed out. All Free has to do is wait three weeks, and Dallas will make a decision for him — and he’ll get paid either way. But rather than fold their de-leveraged hand and admit to a failed experiment by releasing Free, the Cowboys could keep pushing for a pay cut, taking their chances on him and Jermey Parnell.
If you’re a Cowboys fan, you probably don’t relish that option. On the off chance that your team shakes things up by taking the sensible alternative — eating 2014’s dead money now and allocating the 2013’s cap savings to free agency — here are three plausible replacements at right tackle.