Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan reports that veteran right tackle Doug Free is considering retirement.
Fisher is usually a reliable source for Cowboys news, so his report carries some merit. At the same time, "considering" retirement does not mean Free will retire, merely that it is one option he is currently mulling.
Free just turned 33, and many players above 30 routinely take some time after the season concludes to ponder their future.
Ben Roethlisberger (34) caused a medium-sized media storm when he announced recently that he was going to take some time to evaluate “if there’s going to be a next season.” Closer to home, Jason Witten (34) recently said he hadn't given any thought to retiring, but gave some insight into the thought process older players can go through after the end of the season:
"Every year when I'm empty at this point it's just you gave everything you got and I'll take time to reflect on it. I love this team and this group of guys and so yeah [playing in 2017] will be the plan for sure."
"I'm in my 14th year, and you know there's a shelf life for everybody. You put everything you have into it, and when you come up short it's tough. It's not about a paycheck. It's about an opportunity to compete and lead and win and play in these types of games. This team had a special feel all the way through, and to come up short like that for me is hard."
But what happens if Free does decide to retire?
Yesterday, Stephen Jones addressed the issue, and while he explained that the team expects to have Free back as the starting right tackle in 2017, the team has also drawn up a contingency plan.
“Our projection is Doug is going to come back, and he’s our starting right tackle,” Jones said, via the Star-Telegram. “We’ve visited about [Collins playing right tackle]. Obviously right now, we feel good about Doug coming back and being able to do that. But if Doug were to retire or not be around or if something happened to him, then yeah, we’ve visited about who would have the best chance to go outside of our inside guys."
“I think [Collins] would certainly be an option.”
“Obviously if we don’t get Leary re-signed, which will be difficult, then we see La’el as our starting guard.”
It's interesting that Jones would mention Ronald Leary in this context. It was widely assumed that Leary would leave Dallas in free agency, but if Free were to indeed retire, KD Drummond of the Cowboys Wire points out that his retirement would create some cap space for the Cowboys:
If Free were to retire, that would immediately open up $5 million of cap space for the Cowboys. That’s the amount of his base salary for 2017, the final year of his deal. He has $2.5 million of prorated bonuses that will remain on the cap as dead money.
Using the structure of how the Cowboys create their contracts, that would be more than enough to space to sign someone like Ron Leary, if the Cowboys feel his asking price is justified. If not Leary, another player could fit into that cap slot just as easily.
Lots of moving parts for the Cowboys to juggle right now, and free agency hasn't even officially started yet.