IRVING (AP) – Before the Dallas Cowboys can start get serious about loading up their roster, they have to get under the salary cap. They got started on that Tuesday by deciding to release several high-priced players.
Running back Marion Barber, receiver Roy Williams, right guard Leonard Davis and kicker Kris Brown were told they would be cut when the league allows that on Thursday, multiple people familiar with the decisions told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not made any announcements.
The moves save the Cowboys about $16.6 million in cap room. Removing Davis clears $6 million, Williams another $5 million, Barber $4.75 million and Brown $910,000.
Right tackle Marc Colombo said he was told that he, too, could be gone. His departure would free more than $2 million. He also could return at a cheaper rate.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he wanted to break the news to each player himself. He also wanted to do it right away so they wouldn’t bother going to training camp, which opens Wednesday in San Antonio.
Jones arrived at team headquarters about 40 minutes before the official start of the post-lockout flurry of activity and proclaimed that he would clear enough space under the salary cap to sign anyone he wants. He added that, “Before the day is over, we will have contact with any player we have an interest in.”
The Cowboys also are expected to try restructuring the contracts of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin to clear more room under the cap.
Dallas’ top priority is re-signing left tackle Doug Free. He was among the first players Jones met with Tuesday.
Free became a free agent under the terms of the new labor deal. The Cowboys need him to anchor the left side of the line, or else will have to replace him with top pick Tyron Smith. They’ve been counting on Smith to replace Colombo on the right side.
Thus, Colombo’s departure was somewhat expected. Davis’ wasn’t, perhaps especially not to him. As he left the facility, Davis said only that he’d met with position coach Hudson Houck.
“If something happens, there’s no hard feelings,” Davis said. “I’m totally good. That’s part of the business.”
Colombo said he expected to find out whether he’s sticking around “in the next day or so.”
“My goal is to play here,” said Colombo, who was among the veterans who helped run offseason practices. “If it doesn’t (happen), it’s been a great six years here with the Dallas Cowboys and I appreciate it.”
Williams’ Dallas career will be remembered for how much the club gave up to get him in a midseason trade with Detroit in 2008: three picks, including a 2009 first-rounder, plus a $45 million, five-year contract extension.
He and Romo never got in sync and he never became the big-play threat or the first-down machine the Cowboys expected. Over 40 games, he caught 94 passes for 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns. Dallas should be fine with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant as its top receivers.
Barber was a fourth-round pick who blossomed into a Pro Bowler and a fan favorite for his success in short-yardage situations. Dubbed “Marion the Barbarian” by Terrell Owens, Barber was never the same after signing a $45 million, seven-year deal in 2008.
Felix Jones became the Cowboys’ featured back by late last season. Tashard Choice and rookie DeMarco Murray will get the rest of the carries.
Brown’s tenure with his hometown team was brief, mainly because of his salary. Dallas signed him at the end of last season to have him push the inconsistent David Buehler, but with the club needing to watch every penny it instead signed undrafted free agent Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State.
Other undrafted players Dallas signed Tuesday included center Jose Acuna of Nevada, cornerback Mario Butler of Georgia Tech, quarterback Zack Eskridge of Midwestern State, center Kevin Kowalski of Toledo, receiver Lyle Leong of Texas Tech, tackle Leupapa Letuli of Hawaii, cornerback Chris Randle of Utah State and safety Justin Taplin-Ross of Utah.
This busy day marked the start of an offseason delayed by the lockout. Now that it’s here, teams are trying to cram months’ worth of work into days.
“This is a piece of cake compared to what we dealt with on the labor deal,” Jones said. “This is a labor of love. I get to work on my team.”
As for the labor deal, Jones said he was relieved to finally have it done.
“There was give and take, which is the way the fans would expect it,” he said. “I’m sorry there was so much angst for the fans.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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