Thankfully, it finally appears that the longest work stoppage in the history of the NFL is coming to an end. Now, teams will have to prepare for the 2011 season and beyond in a the ever-shrinking window between now and the rapidly-approaching beginning of the season.
On Friday, a large concession was made when owners backed off the idea of having three first rights of refusal, which will allow free agents previously restricted by tender offers--like, for example, the Cowboys’ Doug Free--to test the market unrestricted once free agency begins.
How to hold onto Free, their top priority when this offseason began, is among the most salient questions for Dallas as a new collective bargaining agreement comes together.
The salary cap is set on the low side at $120 million with a $3 million exemption.
This means that as of now, the Cowboys are $18 million over the cap, but they could select one player on which to spend the exemption--meaning that $3 million of the selected player’s salary wouldn’t count against the cap. The team could attempt to hold onto Free under the new CBA by placing the franchise tag on him, but this could get expensive. And as you might guess, even with the exepmtion rule, the Cowboys don’t exactly have much room on the payroll as it stands now.
Also eligible to hit the market as unrestricted free agents are defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher. Like Free, each received a tender offer this offseason, but these will be null and void under the new CBA. Meaning that, also like Free, Bowen and Hatcher will be free to sign with another team without Dallas receiving any compensation.
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