[Update from KD: I had posted an article based on a report from 105.3 The Fan's Twitter Feed that Free would be a June 1st cut as a result of refusing a pay cut. It was however amended shortly after that article went live that it was Free himself speculating that he expects to be a June 1st casualty, not something directly from the team. We will update you as soon as possible if anything changes on that front. The article has been removed. Sorry for any confusion.]
It's a matter of public record that the Cowboys have asked Doug Free to take a pay cut. It is also in the public record that Doug Free's camp has not yet responded to that request. And part of the reason for that may be a lack of clarity about what an appropriate pay cut could be.
That may have changed yesterday when the Ravens and OT Bryant McKinnie agreed to a two-year contract worth up to $7 million. That's a pretty generous contract for a 33-year old tackle who didn't start any regular season games last year because he was out of shape. But he did start in every one of Baltimore's playoff games and now has a ring for his troubles.
That $7 million figure for two years dovetails nicely with Doug Free's salary, as Free is scheduled to make $7 million in just the 2013 season. Apparently, the Cowboys haven't yet heard anything from Free's agent, Jimmy Sexton, about whether they would accept a lower salary, but it's probably fair to assume that if negotiations do start between the two sides, the starting point will likely be at around $3.5 million.
Stephen Jones made it clear last week that the Cowboys want Free to remain with the team, albeit at a reduced salary. But, according to Mike Fisher, writing for CBS DFW, Free doesn't seem to think he'll remain with the Cowboys beyond June 1.
A source close to Free tells me the veteran "anticipates not being with the Cowboys’’ as of June 1 – an indication he is presently unwilling to accept Dallas’ proposal that would substantially reduce his $7 million salary and allow him to likely retain his job starting at right tackle.
June 1 is the day Dallas can release Free and suffer the least amount of cap damage, as his $10-million impact will be allowed to be spread over two seasons. It is clear Dallas prefers to retain Free (but at its desired price). That’s not just a matter of correcting an overpayment on him; it’s also a matter of freeing up cap space that can be used, for instance, to lock up linebacker Sean Lee with a rich extension.
Free’s base salary of $7 million would make him the highest-paid right tackle in the league in 2013. Tyson Clabo (31 years old) would reportedly be available at around $4 million, Eric Winston's (29) going rate is probably around $3 million and Winston Justice (28) is probably in the same ballpark. It's safe to assume Doug Free (29) would not make more than those $3-4 million, if that, with another team.
We know that the Cowboys have been in contact with the representatives of both Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston, but that no negotiations have taken place. We also know that in addition to the Cowboys, the Chargers and the Dolphins are in the market for a right tackle.
In the standoff between the Cowboys and Doug Free, it will all come down to who blinks first. And now that it looks like a market price for right tackles has been set, somebody is bound to blink soon.