Dallas Cowboys cut Newman, begin chase for free agents

The Dallas Cowboys began Tuesday with a flurry of salary-cutting moves -- led by the release of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman -- clearing more than $15 million in cap space.

They ended the day wooing his potential replacement, Kansas City free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington while engaged in serious negotiations with his agent, Ben Dogra, in hopes of signing him as quickly as possible, according to a source.

A contingent of Cowboys brass, including vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan were prepared to roll out the red carpet for Carr at Cowboys Stadium.

The Cowboys also made contact to bring in Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton to replace Jon Kitna as Tony Romo's primary backup.

The Cowboys have visits set with Bears tight end Kellen Davis and Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Connor.

It was the opening day of free agency, and the moves came fast and furious for a Cowboys team hoping to begin the process of improving the roster after last year's 8-8 finish.

Already limited by salary-cap constraints, the Cowboys had to work around the added woes of having $10 million in cap space taken away from them by the NFL for dumping too much salary in the uncapped 2010 season, thus endangering the competitive balance of the league. As of now, they will split the penalty over two years, with $5 million this year and $5 million next year.

So before the Cowboys could move forward in building for 2012, they had to clear cap room, which is $120.6 million per club.

The move with the 34-year-old Newman, who was an expected target for salary relief because of his age, declining production and injury history, cleared $6 million off the books.

The Cowboys gained another $1.26 million by releasing kicker David Buehler in what also was an expected move, considering he was injured last season and had already lost the primary kicking job to Dan Bailey.

More relief came by the decision to restructure the contracts of cornerback Orlando Scandrick and offensive tackle Doug Free, freeing up $8.56 million. The moves were built into the contracts signed by both players last season for this very reason.

According to Scandrick, the two players signed the paperwork to make it happen months ago with the understanding that if the Cowboys didn't need to do it, the papers would not be filed.

Of course, the Cowboys needed that money Tuesday, turning a portion of both players' base salaries into signing bonuses. Scandrick's base salary in 2012 was dropped from $7.1 million to $1.2 million. Free's was lowered from $6 million to $1.2 million.

The Cowboys can gain additional cap flexibility by reworking the contracts of linebacker DeMarcus Ware and receiver Dez Bryant. Those moves weren't made Tuesday.

While the Cowboys helped themselves further financially when they decided to offer contract tenders to only two of their restricted and exclusive right free agents, they might have taken a step back on the field.

Only defensive end Clifton Geathers and offensive tackle Jermey Parnell received exclusive rights tenders. That means that receiver Jesse Holley, who made the team after winning the Michael Irvin reality show 4th and Long two years ago, is a free agent and can sign with any team. The same is true for fullback Tony Fiammetta, a restricted free agent, which is the bigger setback.

The Cowboys chose not to give Fiammetta the restricted tender of $1.32 million. They talked to his agent Tuesday about a long-term deal in hopes of lowering his cap figure for 2012. But the two sides couldn't come to an agreement and now the Cowboys are in danger of Fiammetta signing with another team.

The Cowboys likely will try to match any offer he gets, but he would be sorely missed if the Cowboys don't get him back. The Cowboys averaged 130.4 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per rush in 10 games with him on the field. In the six games without Fiammetta, the Cowboys averaged 83.8 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per rush.

The day also saw another valued member of the team potentially take a step out the door when free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson visited the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also is being courted by the Arizona Cardinals.

Tight end Martellus Bennett's days as a Cowboy are all but over. He began a free-agent tour with the New York Giants on Tuesday. He also has drawn interest from the Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Getting a deal with Carr appears to be the Cowboys' primary focus, which is understandable considering they ranked among the worst pass defenses in team history over the past two years.

Carr, 26, is in the prime of his career after being picked in the fifth round by the Chiefs in 2008. He has started all 64 games of his career.

Although he has just eight interceptions, he is a solid performer and doesn't give up many plays. He allowed just three touchdowns last season and had 15 pass deflections.

No Cowboys player had more than eight in 2011.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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