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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Offseason Priorities: Doug Free

As of yesterday, NFL teams have two weeks--until February 25, to place franchise tags on players. A brief looksee at the Cowboys' roster suggests that only one of their ten free agents might merit such a distinction. If you'll recall, the franchise tag guarantees that the tagged player will receive the average of the top five salaried players at his position, or 120 percent of that player's previous base salary, depending on which is greater. In a recent article, Bob Sturm, drawing on the work done by the lads at Pro Football Focus, suggests that Free might be one of the top three left tackles in the game. If we can accept that, then the franchise tag would appear to be right in line with what he's worth--that is, if the Cowboys would rather franchise him than sign him to a long-term deal. 

With the end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and subsequent labor issues looming, this decision making process becomes exponentially more complicated. ESPN's Calvin Watkins has of late authored a couple of articles examining the Free question (here and here), and KD Drummond covered it earlier today on BTB. The sticking point is that it's uncertain whether, under a new CBA (assuming there is a new CBA), Free, given his years of service, would be categorized as a restricted or an unrestricted free agent.

Obviously, that makes a huge difference. As a restricted FA, he would almost certainly receive the highest tender, exactly what Dallas extended to Miles Austin last offseason. Austin was scheduled to make a cool three million before signing a shiny, new, big-money deal. As an unrestricted free agent, an un-franchised Free would be on the open market, which would drive his price up considerably.

To avoid this, the Cowboys would have to franchise him. The problem is that, without a CBA, they have no idea how much the franchise tag is going to cost. In 2010, franchised OTs received $10.7 million; in 2011, this amount is sure to change, but how much? This is the question the Joneses must mull and ponder over the next two weeks.

The good news is that Jerrah is on the forefront of the new CBA negotiations, so he'll have a clear idea of the kinds of figures that are being bandied about. And, as the Patriots demonstrated during the spy-gate scandal, in this ultra-competitive league, every little bit of information helps.

So, BTBers, feel "Free" to play GM for a day: what would you do?

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