Gil LeBreton

Cowboys’ bleeding continues with retirement of Doug Free

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How Romo's stats compare to other Cowboys quarterbacks, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Danny White and Don Meredith

Day Four of NFL free agency, and Tony Romo is still a Dallas Cowboy but Doug Free isn’t.

Go figure.

While the Jones family and the Broncos and Texans continued to play poker Saturday, the Cowboys reportedly learned that Free – as in, “holding ... number 68 ... offense” – has decided to retire.

Whoa. Free, 33, is going to walk away from $5 million, his salary for 2017?

The timing seems less than appropriate for the franchise, coming just hours after learning that veteran guard Ron Leary had signed a four-year deal with Denver.

La’el Collins was supposed to fill Leary’s vacant position, but the starting right tackle spot is suddenly up for grabs. Chaz Green, a fixture on the injury report for two seasons, becomes the logical contender.

From my comfortable chair, it’s hard to fault any NFL player who decides to hang up his cleats. I saw the movie Concussion – scary. I’m not suggesting that that’s why Free is leaving the game, but Godspeed to anyone who has the strength of mind to do so.

Free, of course, was a serial holding-penalty offender. But don’t be a hater. He was a solid contributor to the league’s best offensive line and their experienced leader. He will be missed.

Salary cap karma has always been a haunting issue for owner Jerry Jones.

Worse, if you’re scoring along at home, that makes four starters who have left the team since the Green Bay playoff defeat. The Cowboys are hemorrhaging players, starters and valuable backups alike.

Salary cap karma has always been a haunting issue for owner Jerry Jones. He was one of the prime proponents of introducing an NFL salary cap in 1994. Jerry said the owners were seeking “cost certainties.”

Star-Telegram Cowboys beat writer Clarence Hill Jr. talks to former Cowboy Larry Brown about the departure of Tony Romo. (video by Clarence Hill Jr.)

The irony is that Jones is now a multi-billionaire and he doesn’t have to read any player price tags. There should be little doubt that without a salary cap, Owner Jones today would be the George Steinbrenner of the NFL with Lombardi trophies lining two shelves.

Next time you hear some player say that he’s only in it for the team and the winning, laugh heartily.

Instead, he had to bid goodbye last week to free agents Leary, Barry Church, Terrell McClain, J.J. Wilcox and Jack Crawford. They all eschewed Owner Jones’ hospitality and the tempting Siren of a Super Bowl within reach to dash for the cash.

The moral: Next time you hear some player say that he’s only in it for the team and the winning, laugh heartily.

To be sure, the Cowboys have dipped into the free agent waters themselves.

They signed Nolan Carroll, who was the Philadelphia cornerback that Terrance Williams beat so badly for Romo’s only touchdown pass of the season. And they agreed to a reported one-year deal for $2 million with defensive end Demontre Moore of Rowlett by way of Texas A&M.

Moore has never lived up to the expectations the Giants had for him when they drafted him in the third round in 2013. He hasn’t behaved, and his locker room fight with teammate Cullen Jenkins over free Beats headphones led to his release from New York. Three other teams have cut him since.

The Cowboys think that Rod Marinelli can get through to him, even though Tom Coughlin couldn’t. Ohhh-kay.

For the Cowboys, there is always the draft to replenish the losses. And they have been high rollers there in recent seasons.

Romo? His status is still a stare-down poker game, it seems, between Owner Jones and the two Romo-suitors, Denver’s John Elway and Houston GM Rick Smith.

Oh, the irony. Jerry could buy both of them, but his money isn’t good here.

Curse the salary cap.

Rookies Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott emerge as stars during an 11-game win streak, leading to a 13-3 regular-season record. But a gut-wrenching divisional-round loss to the Packers kept the Cowboys from advancing in the post season.

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