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    Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap May Force Change at Right Tackle

    Leading up to the March 9th start of NFL , we will be looking at all players under contract for 2017 and how much of the each position is taking up.

    Position Breakdowns: SPECIAL TEAMS | RUNNING BACKS | SAFETIES | TIGHT ENDS | LINEBACKERS | GUARDS & CENTERS | DEFENSIVE TACKLES | DEFENSIVE ENDS | QUARTERBACKS | CORNERBACKS | RECEIVERS

    Cowboys Capology: Offensive Tackles

    After 10 years of service in Dallas, 's time is close to ending. That end could come as soon as the next few weeks; Free is on the last year of his deal and Dallas can save $5 million in cap space if he's released. He's arguably the most attractive potential cap casualty on the roster.

    If Free is released, how will Dallas address the position? They have some in-house options but also could look to the draft and free agency. We also can't dismiss the possibility that Free will return for one more year.

    Before we dive into the specifics, let's look at the NFL's . The league announced that the cap would be set at $167 million for the upcoming season. Even though this is still a $10 million increase from last year, it's a few million short of what many were projecting.

    Confirmed 2017 Salary Cap = $167 million
    Cowboys 2016 Cap Rollover = $2.4 million

    Dallas Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap = $169.4 million

    Now, using that number as our foundation, let's look at how much the Cowboys' offensive tackles are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.

    Tyron Smith
    LT

    Tyron Smith

    2017 Cap Hit: $8.82 million

    As we discussed recently with , Smith's contract is designed for annual restructuring to help the Cowboys' cap situation. Dallas has no intention of letting Tyron, one of the elite left tackles in football, leave the team anytime before his contract expires in 2023. They will keep moving money around freely because of that confidence.

    Doug Free
    RT Doug Free

    Doug Free

    2017 Cap Hit: $7.5 million

    Shortly after the Cowboys' playoff exit I wrote about how it was time to move on from Doug Free. Time hasn't softened my position one bit.

    Releasing Free would create an instant cap saving of $5 million. Even if you have to spend all of that on his replacement, my belief is that player would give you more value for the money than Free is capable of at this point.

    What's more, Dallas has two young prospects who've looked good in limited playing time. As we look at them next, consider the benefit of adding that $5 million to our spending pool. If you want the Cowboys to make those needed upgrades on , the money has to come from somewhere.

    Chaz Green, Joe Looney, La'el Collins
    OT (middle)

    Chaz Green

    2017 Cap Hit: $786k

    The 2015 third-round pick has flashed ability but been plagued by problems. He lost all of his rookie year to a hip problem. Last year he played early, starting in place of Tyron Smith in Weeks 3 and 4, but then going out with a foot problem and eventually going on IR for his back.

    Taking a guy in the is no small thing. Other recent third-round picks for the Cowboys have been , , , , and . All of those players have been starters at some point, some as early as their rookie seasons.

    Will Dallas put their faith in Chaz Green to replace Doug Free? If so, is enough of an insurance policy? Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts in figuring out this right situation.

    Emmett Cleary

    OT Emmett Cleary

    Emmett Cleary

    2017 Cap Hit: $615k

    After playing well in spot duty for Tyron Smith and starting Dallas' finale, Cleary is an intriguing figure this . We expect him to be in competition with Chaz Green, but the question is if they'll be vying for a backup role or the starting job at right tackle.

    If Dallas does make Doug Free a cap casualty, will they trust either Cleary and Green enough to potentially take over? Have they shown enough to earn a shot at the job? We discuss this in more detail below.

    Clay DeBord

    2017 Cap Hit: $465k

    Undrafted in 2016 and signed by the , DeBord spent and with them until being released at first cuts. He then spent a few weeks on the ' before finally ending up with the Cowboys, staying on their squad from late September through the end of the season.

    DeBord's scouting report describes him as an athletic player with strength and technique issues. He was signed to a two-year futures contract in January, so Dallas must be interested in seeing where his development goes.

    2017 Salary Cap Impact

    Total Offensive Tackle Cap Hit = $18.19 million
    Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 10.74%

    Even after Tyron Smith's restructure the OT position takes up a good chunk of salary cap space. The only way that changes is if Dallas makes Doug Free a cap casualty.

    As already mentioned, the ideal solution is to let Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary compete for the job. The winner would be your new right tackle and the loser would remain the primary backup and swing tackle. You'd clear the $5 million in space by cutting Free and not have to spend a dime of it on his replacement.

    The draft is another option. Some have suggested that Dallas could use their first-round pick, given the solid value of taking offensive linemen in the later picks compared to other positions. Last year's 28th-overall pick counted $1.69 million against the cap as a rookie, so going that route would eliminate around 35% of what you saved by cutting Free.

    If you're not confident in either Chaz Green or Emmett Cleary and want to commit draft resources to other positions, free agency is the other alternative. Dallas might be able to find a capable starter for about $2-$3 million; an older veteran who could provide a short-term answer.

    The nice thing for Dallas is that the foundation trio of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and allow for them to take some chances at the other two spots. While you never want a weak link or liability, you don't have to invest heavily in all five positions to still have a dominant line. The superstar ability of your big three can help the other two to excel.

     

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    Jess Haynie
    Jess Haynie
    Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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