Can Cowboys afford to sign a tackle?

I get the sense that Dallas Cowboys fans would feel better about the team if it signed one of these free-agent offensive tackles. Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston are the names you're hearing, and it's pretty obvious either would be an upgrade over Doug Free. Neither has yet signed elsewhere, so there's no real reason to panic. But with all of the salary cap problems the Cowboys have had this offseason it's understandable to worry whether they can afford to sign one of these guys.

Calvin Watkins reports, however, that the Cowboys have more than $5 million in cap room at the present time, not counting the $2 million they'll get in June when the release of Marcus Spears takes effect and not counting the $7 million (post-June 1) they could save by cutting Free. This would seem to indicate that they can sign someone like Clabo and still sign their draft picks (especially since their first-rounder ended up being No. 31 and not No. 18, a distinction likely to save them somewhere around $300,000 against this year's cap). The picks don't need to be under contract prior to June 1, so the Cowboys can wait until then to take care of that even if they sign Clabo in the meantime.

The issue appears to be Free, and how they handle his contract situation. It's easy for us to sit here and say they should cut him based on the way he's played since they signed him two offseasons ago. But the Cowboys don't like to give up on their guys, and it's likely they'd prefer to keep Free at a much lower salary and as a backup tackle. If Free would agree to the pay cut now, they'd add to their cap room and could make a move on a Clabo with more clarity about their overall 2013 cap situation. But if Free won't agree to the pay cut the Cowboys have in mind, then they're a month away from being able to cut him and things could get held up.

As you know, I like the move the Cowboys made to take center/guard Travis Frederick in the first round last week. Along with fellow first-rounder Tyron Smith, he'll give the Cowboys at least two offensive line starters about whom they can feel good. Adding a veteran such as Clabo, whom they appear to like, would up that number to three, and then they could throw a bunch of Phil Costa/Mackenzy Bernadeau/Nate Livings types into the mix for the other two spots and hope that competition pushes two of them to play better.

The Cowboys have enough talent on their roster to be a playoff team in 2013, but they have to get better offensive line play in order to cash in on that. Step 1 was the first round of the draft. Step 2 remains up in the air. But it appears they do have the resources to pull it off.