The Cowboys didn't put place the franchise tag on left tackle Doug Free.
But the four-year veteran is clearly important to them, which is why he got the highest restricted free-agent tender on Tuesday _ a one-year contract worth roughly $3.4 million with first-and-third round draft pick compensation.
Free was one of four players tendered restricted free agent contracts by the Cowboys in their attempt to cover themselves before a possible lockout, looming on Thursday.
Defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher received second-round tenders ($1.9 million) and safety Alan Ball received an original seventh round tender ($1.2 million)
The tenders, for example, mean if another team were to sign Free as a restricted free agent, it would have to compensate the Cowboys with first- and third-round draft picks.
At 27, Free still could still be targeted by other teams if and when a labor deal is agreed. He was the team's best offensive lineman last year, his first as a starting left tackle, and the Cowboys would like to eventually sign him to a long-term contract extension.
It's a chance the Cowboys took when they didn't place the franchise tag on him, which would have guaranteed him a $10 million salary for next season.
Of course this is all assuming the players will still be restricted free agents under a new collective bargaining agreement.
There is a chance players with four accrued seasons could be granted unrestricted free agency.
The Cowboys made the offers in case the current rules remain in place.
Also of note is that wide receiver Sam Hurd and linebacker Leon Williams were not offered restricted free agent tenders, making them unrestricted free agents immediately.
Hurd, a special teams ace, is now likely done in Dallas. The Cowboys might try to re-sign him but we wants something they really can't offer: a chance to be an every-down receiver.
If another promises to give him a chance to play receiver in the regular offense, Hurd will probably not look back.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.