The Dallas Cowboys finally got around to placing restricted free agent offers on a group of players, most notably on starting left tackle Doug Free. The problem is the offers may be meaningless depending on the outcome of the labor negotiations that are currently on-going. Under the old system of free agency Free would be an unrestricted free agent because he has four years of service in the league. But in the uncapped year of 2010, this requirement for unrestricted status was modified to six years of service, meaning Free would be restricted.
It is an offseason of uncertainty, not only to us, the fans, but to the players themselves. Regardless, most NFL teams are charging ahead using the 2010 rules even though they are likely to change whenever a new CBA is negotiated and agreed upon.
Free is obviously a key piece of the Cowboys puzzle for any foreseeable future. Playing the highly-prized position of left tackle, and doing a more than serviceable job of replacing the departed Flozell Adams in 2010, Free has earned the trust of the Cowboys and the fanbase. Dallas patiently waited for his development over the years and were in no hurry to put him on the field as long as Adams was doing a capable job at left tackle. But when Adams was seen to be losing his ability to man the crucial position after the 2009 season, the Cowboys turned to Free, and were rewarded with competence at the spot.
It's crucial for the Cowboys to retain Free, given their lack of depth along the offensive line and their need to insure a replacement for right tackle Marc Colombo should his play continue to deteriorate as it did in 2010. Recognizing those circumstances, Dallas went with the maximum tender available to the team to keep Doug Free in a Cowboys uniform.
Free, a solid 16-game starter at left tackle, received the highest-level tender (roughly $3.5 million) that would require a team to submit a first- and third-round pick as compensation if the Cowboys chose not to match an offer sheet.
More below on Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher...
The team also extended offers to defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher. This is another crucial area of need given that starting defensive end Marcus Spears will be allowed to test the free agent market, and most observers agree that Spears has likely played his last game as a Dallas Cowboy.
Hatcher and Bowen, key rotation defensive linemen, each received the second-round tender (roughly $1.9 million) requiring second-round compensation.
In another move, one that smacks of insurance more than anything else, the Cowboys extended an offer to starting safety Alan Ball. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is being allowed to test the free agent waters, so the Cowboys need some assurance that they won't necessarily have to turn over both starting safety spots in the same offseason, but they may still choose to do that.
Ball, a first-year starter at free safety, received the original draft choice tender (roughly $1.2 million) worth seventh-round compensation due to his 2007 draft status.
One player not receiving an offer was Sam Hurd, who has proven his worth as a special teams player. Presumably, once a CBA is in place, the Cowboys could look to bring Hurd back, but only at a price less than he's currently receiving. There's no guarantee that strategy would be successful given Hurd's ability on special teams, and his ability to act as a reserve wide receiver on a team with less depth that Dallas at the position.