Dallas had several problems to address at the end of last season. One of them was the salary cap, which has been partially handled with several contract extensions and a few cuts (including Anthony Armstrong, who got a second chance once some other money was freed up). But despite a lot of activity, there is still a need for some more money.
One place the money is needed is for the offensive line. The performance of the line last year was less than exciting for the fans, and one of the most criticized parts of that unit was RT Doug Free. With a 2013 salary of $7 million and a total cap hit of $10.02 million, he is simply seen as not being worth the cost by many. The team could save about half the cap hit by making him a June 1 cut, but the money would not be available until then. And that would of course require coming up with a plan to proceed without him.
The Cowboys are attempting to find another way. According to a report from Ian Rapoport on NFL.com, the team has asked Free to take a pay cut. This would seem to be an indication that, in this instance, the team agrees with the vast majority of the fans that he is not worth his contract. However, even though the team has asked for some money back, the indications are that Free is not interested.
Part of the reason he may be unwilling to go along - well, besides the loss of seven figures in income - is that the money freed up is believed to be wanted by the team to pursue free agent tackle Eric Winston, who is reported to be looking for a $3 to $4 million for a one year deal. In essence, the team is believed, at least in the media, to be asking Free to help them afford his replacement. Or they may be using the whole thing as a way to pressure Free.
Cowboys may be showing interest in FA Eric Winston to leverage RT Doug Free into accepting a pay cut. Counts $10M, led NFL OL in penalties— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 9, 2013
However, there are several reasons to doubt the entire Winston story. First off, as soon as reports came out that the Cowboys were interested in him, the team quickly came out to deny that they were in any kind of serious discussions with him. Second, how much cooperation can you really expect from someone who thinks you are trying to get rid of him? (However, now that the stories have hit the media, that idea is going to be in Free's head, no matter what the truth is.)
The only real leverage here is that the Cowboys can tell him he will be cut if he does not accept less pay. And even that would not come with a guarantee that he keeps his job even at the lower pay. This is going to bear some watching to see how things develop. The final outcome may not be clear for months.