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Is 2016 Doug Free’s Last Year in Dallas?

Doug Free probably feels like the odd man out at times. When people are effusing praise on the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line they always mention the three first-round picks; Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. They will also often talk about La’el Collins, the first-round talent who went undrafted due to unusual circumstances. Free may get a token mention as an experienced veteran, but often he is taken for granted. Entering his 10th season, the veteran right tackle is still solidified in his position.

Jess Haynie

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Doug Free

Doug Free probably feels like the odd man out at times.

When people are effusing praise on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line they always mention the three first-round picks; Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. They will also often talk about La'el Collins, the first-round talent who went undrafted due to unusual circumstances. Free may get a token mention as an experienced veteran, but often he is taken for granted.

Cowboys Headlines - Is 2016 Doug Free's Last Year in Dallas? 1Entering his 10th season, the veteran right tackle is still solidified in his position. There is no reserve player who appears able to challenge him. Even Chaz Green, who Dallas spent a third-round pick on in 2015, is reportedly moving to guard.

Nobody thinks Free is an elite player. He has limitations in pass protection and is still one of the most penalized players on the team. That said, Free is an excellent run blocker. With the Cowboys drafting Ezekiel Elliott and clearly looking to lean on the rushing attack like they did in 2014, Free's value is still high in Dallas.

It's next year when things get interesting. Free's contract becomes an attractive salary cap-clearing option; $6.5 million cap hit and only $1.5 in dead money for a savings of $5 million. Dallas will have a fresh offseason with which to consider drafting or signing a replacement.

Drafting a replacement for Free may sound risky. Unless it's one of the top talents in the class, the idea of inserting a rookie into the starting lineup is rightfully concerning. I don't think the Cowboys would go this route, especially if Tony Romo is still their quarterback.

Free agency (no pun intended) would be the likely option. The question is if you can find a worthy replacement for Free without eating up all of the cap savings you earned by releasing him. If not, then is it really worth doing?

Contracts for offensive tackles are far more lucrative than interior linemen. For example, Jermey Parnell left Dallas last year with a 5-year, $32 million deal from Jacksonville. This was a guy who was never as good as Free in Dallas, and yet he ended up making about the same money.

Cowboys Headlines - Is 2016 Doug Free's Last Year in Dallas? 2

CREDIT: Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

It will likely to come down to what specific players the Cowboys see in the 2017 free agent pool. If they spot somebody who they think they can sign to a bargain contract and still get close to the same production value out of, they should strongly consider the deal.

According to OverTheCap.com, Free is just below the Top 10 in right tackle salaries. His skill as a run blocker is equal to that but his pass protection is not. In the NFL you are always gauging performance against salary and Free has always lived on the borderline.

There's a strong possibility, of course, that Free will stick around in 2017 as his contract expires. That would afford Dallas the chance to draft their next right tackle who could develop for a season behind the veteran. This is the most likely scenario based on present information.

However, when we get to the next offseason, Free's contract will still stick out as one of the more profitable cap casualties. We will certainly be addressing this topic again.

 



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.

From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.

Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.

They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.

Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

https://t.co/za0u3lWgaY

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract

Jess Haynie

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Which 2018 Free Agents Will The Cowboys Retain? 1
Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportwire

DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future  beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.

According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.

Jon Machota on Twitter

DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million

This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.

Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.

This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.

Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.

There is risk on both sides, of course.

Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.

Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.



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