The biggest question mark remaining in Dallas after the Cowboys completed the draft this past weekend is, who will be the right tackle in 2013?
Dallas didn't draft any offensive tackles and Doug Free remains on the roster despite terrible showings in each of the last two seasons. The team has indicated it might not be ready to give up on him (per 105.3 FM, h/t ESPN.com), but there have also been clues that the Cowboys are interested in bringing in some competition via the free-agent market.
All of that makes sense. Despite a report from ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins that the 'Boys have over $5 million in cap space, they still have to sign their rookies this summer and need some free cash entering the season.
Prior to the draft, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told a Dallas radio station that the team was "looking at" veteran free agent Eric Winston. And on Wednesday, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the 'Boys "really like" and "remain in contact with" Tyson Clabo, who was a cap casualty in Atlanta.
Cutting Free after June 1 allows the Cowboys to spread out his cap hit over two years, which saves them an extra $3 million in 2013. But they're still going to be paying Free $3 million each of the next two years, regardless of whether or not he's on the roster.
Jerry Jones said last week (per SportsDay.com) that they'd deal with Free's situation after the draft, but the fact that Dallas didn't invest in any tackles on Thursday, Friday or Saturday indicates it is going to at least talk to Free about taking a pay cut to stick around.
Jones doesn't like giving up on players he's paid handsome dollars to and he surely despises the idea of paying the man $6 million to stay home.
Free might be willing to stick around for, say, $4 million this year. If that's the case, the Cowboys have to decide whether it would be better to go with him at that rate or cut him and pay Clabo or Winston a similar salary while also owing Free $3 million.
So my question to you, Cowboys fans, is whether you think the 'Boys would be better off with Free for about $4 million or Clabo/Winston for about $7 million (after taking Free's go-away money into account).
It's not my money, so I'm going with Option B. Considering that the Cowboys will also save an extra $2 million when Marcus Spears comes off the books in June, it seems affordable and makes the team better.
Much better, in fact.
Clabo was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the fifth-best right tackle in the NFL last season. He gave up only five sacks on over 1,000 snaps and was penalized just four times in 16 starts. The 31-year-old is considered to be an above-average run-blocker as well.
Winston was rated by PFF as the ninth-best right tackle in the game. He gave up only three sacks on over 1,000 snaps, but had some issues with penalties. The 29-year-old is also a strong run-blocker.
Only five right tackles were rated lower than Free by PFF. The 29-year-old led the league with 15 penalties. He's given up 16 sacks and drawn a ridiculous 25 flags in the last two seasons.
Is this even a debate?