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Cowboys Keep Free For $32 Million Over 4 Years

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IRVING (AP) - The Dallas Cowboys have checked off the top item on their offseason to-do list by retaining left tackle Doug Free.

Free will get $32 million over four years, with $17 million guaranteed, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the deal.

Getting this deal done right away also means Free will join the rest of the team in reporting to training camp in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Now that they know Free will handle the left side of the offensive line, the Cowboys can get on with the rest of their offseason plans, primarily improving a defense that allowed the most points in franchise history. Re-signing linemen Stephen Bowen and possibly Jason Hatcher could be part of the focus, as well as targeting players from other teams.

Dallas still needs to shore up the offensive line. Free and top pick Tyron Smith are set at tackle, but the Cowboys plan to release right guard Leonard Davis and need to re-sign left guard Kyle Kosier or find a replacement.

Free is coming off his fourth season in the NFL, but his first as a starter on the left side, protecting Tony Romo’s blind side. Although the Cowboys were 6-10 last season, and Romo was lost to an injury, Free’s performance was considered among the bright spots.

The year before, Free played right tackle, and it’s thought that he will eventually shift back to that side once Smith develops. Either way, the pair are likely to be Romo’s on-field bodyguards the next four years.

Free was supposed to be a restricted free agent this offseason and Dallas only gave him a tender offer instead of working out a deal before the lockout hit. Under the terms of the settlement, he became an unrestricted free agent.

Proven guys at his position, and at his age, can command a lot on the open market, but owner Jerry Jones was able to persuade him to stay. Free was seen going into team headquarters, presumably for a meeting with Jones, right at the start of business Tuesday, the first day teams and players could talk.

Also Tuesday, the Cowboys cleared about $16.6 million in salary cap space by deciding to release Davis, receiver Roy Williams, running back Marion Barber and kicker Kris Brown. Those moves won’t become official until Thursday. Dallas also is likely to drop incumbent right tackle Marc Colombo, although he could return at a reduced rate to back up both tackle spots.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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