IRVING, Texas – There are two problems with the reports that have the Dallas Cowboys simultaneously negotiating a pay-cut contract for incumbent right tackle Doug Free while also negotiating a free-agent contract for prospective right tackle Eric Winston:
Problem 1: That simultaneous orchestration doesn’t make sense.
Problem 2: That simultaneous orchestration isn’t happening.
Some bullet-pointed truths, from sources inside Valley Ranch:
* There has been nothing “imminent” about the signing of Texas native Winston, who has experienced some good NFL years with the Texans and the Chiefs. His status in the eyes of the Cowboys is as it was when we first wrote about his availability in this space on March 6: Signing him remains a “concept.”
* This is a buyer’s market on players of Winston’s stature. Winston himself knows this, which is why he’s been so frank in public about possibly being willing to accept a short-term deal at $3-to-$4 million annually. The Winston-to-Dallas story has traction because agent Drew Rosenhaus made it so; it’s so widely-reported now that Winston’s Wikipedia page identifies him as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Sources continue to tell me that there have been no true Cowboys negotiations with Winston beyond “touching base” with his agent in anticipation of Dallas possibly having an opening.
* The status on Doug Free’s situation is essentially unchanged from when we first addressed it way back on Nov. 18: He is an adequate NFL player who experienced a lousy 2012 season. Making him a post-June 1 cut can save on his $10-million cap hit for 2013.
Is that an option? Yes, but again, it’s not a more “imminent” option than it’s been at any time this offseason.
Another option: Urge Free to take a pay cut.
I’m told that this concept is in motion now as part of an ongoing discussion. Slicing Free’s salary from $7 million can happen today. Or tomorrow. Or at any time leading up to June 1.
But more important than that, as we get to the root of the errant reports: It is simply not true that Dallas is both 1) forcing Free to take a salary cut AND 2) promising that available salary to incoming Winston. (Or Tyson Clabo, another accomplished tackle who is on the market.)
“You can’t have too many good offensive linemen,” one Cowboys source tells me. “But in that scenario, wouldn’t we have a lot of right tackles?”
Yes, they would.
They’d have the incumbent Free. And the incoming Winston. And the emerging Jeremy Parnell. (And that’s not even counting the possibility of drafting first- and second-round-caliber kids like D.J. Fluker, Kyle Long or Pugh.)
If they keep Free, they don’t need Winston.
If Free doesn’t take the paycut, they can try to sign Winston … and won’t need Free.
(By the way: Anybody who thinks Free is a candidate to move from tackle to being successful at guard hasn’t talked to people in the Cowboys’ personnel department.)
Dallas’ leverage on Free is clear: Take the paycut – or possibly be cut. It’s an either-or setup for the Cowboys, and one in which the team holds the cards.
But Free has no reason to take a paycut in order to remain with a team that plans to replace him with a player signed with money that used to be his. And the Cowboys have no reason to employ both players. There is great logic in Free accepting a reduction in salary rather than enter a flooded market where he might make less than Dallas is promising. There is great logic in Dallas positioning Winston as Free’s cheaper just-in-case replacement.
But reports of an “imminent” deal with Winston are, frankly, false.
And reports of simultaneous orchestration of deals for both tackles are, frankly, stupid.