Cowboys just barely under the cap

My friend and colleague Calvin Watkins reports that Monday's moves got the Dallas Cowboys $175,000 under the salary cap in advance of today's 4 p.m. ET start of NFL free agency. This, as Watkins points out, leaves them no room to sign anyone, even their draft picks. So don't expect a lot of Cowboys news at 4:01 p.m. ET, is I guess the point we're trying to make here. They have more work to do before they can really get their offseason humming.

With significant needs at offensive line, safety, backup running back and other positions, the Cowboys will have to find a way to add pieces this offseason. (Or at least pay their draft picks.) Getting in compliance with the cap by 4 p.m. ET today was merely a necessary first step. In the coming days and weeks, I'd expect news on at least one of the following fronts, and probably both:

  • A contract extension for quarterback Tony Romo, which would drastically reduce his 2013 cap number and offer the added benefit of locking up their franchise quarterback beyond 2013. (Watkins also thinks it's possible they could reduce Anthony Spencer's cap number with a long-term deal, but I find that less likely.)

  • The release of some more veterans, such as defensive lineman Marcus Spears and fullback Lawrence Vickers.

Now, a lot of people are asking about right tackle Doug Free -- specifically, why they haven't cut him yet. Cutting Free would save the Cowboys $7 million in cap room. The problem is, in order to get that savings, the Cowboys would have to designate Free as a June 1 cut. So while they could technically cut him any time they like, they wouldn't see that savings until June 1. That's the move that likely helps them sign those draft picks and/or allows them to carry over extra cap money into 2014, when they won't be operating under a $5 million penalty anymore and they might need help paying off some of the restructuring they did to get under this year's cap.