#68 Doug Free
Doug Free was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on January 16, 1984. He played collegiately at Northern Illinois University. He is currently an offensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Doug Free attended Lincoln High School in a Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He excelled on the football field as well as in the classroom during his high school career.
Free not only lettered three times in football at Lincoln High School, but was also an honor student.
As a defensive tackle in 2002, Free led the team to a 7-3 record and a playoff berth, recording 64 tackles, eight sacks, seven blocked kicks, six forced fumbles, six pass deflections, and two fumble recoveries. He also had six receptions for 141 yards and one touchdown as a tight end on offense.
As a senior, he was the team captain and was named defensive lineman of the year. He also earned first-team All-Fox Valley Conference honors on offense and defense, first-team Herald Times Reporter all-area honors, and Milwaukee Journey Sentinel all-state honors.
Upon the completion of his high school career, Doug Free accepted a scholarship to Northern Illinois University.
Doug Free was redshirted his first year at Northern Illinois, but was forced to start at right tackle as a freshman after Shea Fitzgerald was killed along with 12 others, when a back porch collapsed in Lincoln Park.
He started all 12 games following his redshirt season, the first two at right tackle, the next nine at left tackle, and the last at tight end. He was named to the Freshman All-America third-team by The Sporting News.
Free earned Sophomore All-American third-team honors from College Sports Report and was named second-team All-Mid American Conference by the league’s coaches.
As a junior, he started 12 games at left tackle and earned first-team All-Mid American Conference honors. He was also nominated for MAC All-Academic honors and CoSIDA District V All-Academic honors after earning a 3.24 grade point average in industrial technology.
As a senior, he earned first-team All-Mid American Conference and Academic All-MAC honors. He was also a member of the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award Watch List.
During his time at Northern Illinois, Doug Free started a total of 49 games and was a semifinalist for the Draddy Award, which recognizes academic success, football performance, and exemplary community service.
2007 NFL Draft
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Doug Free in the fourth round (122nd overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft with the hopes of developing him into a key member along the offensive line.
Doug Free started his first preseason game as a rookie, but suffered a knee sprain that would eventually delay his development and cause him to be inactive for the first 15 games of the season. He did, however, receive some playing time at right tackle in the fourth quarter of the last game of the year.
In 2008, Free was inactive for 13 games and didn’t receive much playing time. It wasn’t until the next season — in 2009 — he got the chance to play, filling in for the injured Marc Colombo. He started seven games that season and performed at a high level, allowing only one quarterback sack.
The Dallas Cowboys decided to release long-time left tackle Flozell Adams on April 1, 2010 and named Doug Free the starting left tackle in his place. Free would go on to be recognized as one of the best players in the league at his position.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Doug Free to a four-year $32 million contract on July 26, 2011 to keep him from hitting the free agent market. His play seemed to regress a little that season, causing him to move back to right tackle in 2012.
The move back to right tackle in 2012 didn’t seem to help his regression and he split time with Jermey Parnell. Sharing playing time, Free still gave up seven QB sacks, five holding penalties, and seven false starts. After the season, he accepted a reduced salary in order to avoid being waived.
In 2013, his play improved and he once again became one of the more consistent offensive lineman on the team.
In 2014, he struggled with injuries and missed a total of seven games, including two playoff games. He would end up having off-season surgery to help repair a stress fracture in his left ankle.
On March 7, 2015, the Dallas Cowboys re-signed him to a three-year $15 million contract. He started all 16 games at right tackle, but led the team with nine penalties.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Doug Free to a three-year $15 million contract extension with $6 million guaranteed on March 7, 2015. Free will make an average of $5 million per season. This contract makes him the 12th highest-paid of 91 right tackles in the NFL.
In 2016, Doug Free’s base salary is $4 million with a cap hit of $5,500,000. In 2017, his base salary is $5 million and he has a cap hit of $6,500,000. He will become a free agent after the 2017 season and the Dallas Cowboys are likely to move on and find someone to replace him at right tackle.
Is Ezekiel Elliott the Most Dominant Running Back in the NFL?
There's no player in football that is more hotly debated at the moment than Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Though much of the debate surrounds his potential contract extension, which would likely make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there's also been a lot of debate about his standing as the best running back in the NFL.
On Thursday, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox released his list of the most dominant players at each position. It's a fantastic read and not just because he listed Ezekiel Elliott as the most dominant running back in the NFL.
It's certainly easy to see where he's coming from despite the debate that rages across the NFL's fanbases. Ezekiel Elliott's lead the NFL in rushing two of the three season's he's been in the league. Both of those seasons, Elliott only played 15 games, getting the benefit of the Cowboys playoff positioning being solidified prior to week 17. In 2017, he would have probably ran away with the league's rushing title again, which would make him the three-time defending rushing champion heading into 2019.
In that 2017 season when he missed six games and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he only rushed for seven yards on nine carries, Elliott still finished in the top 10 in rushing.
In 2018, he bested Saquon Bakley by 127 yards rushing. Had Elliott played in the week 17 finale last season and rushed for his season average, he would have won the rushing title by more than 200 yards. And he did that in what many considered to be a down season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack. Pro Football Focus even graded Elliott as the 30th best running back for 2018.
In 2018, Elliott had 2,000 total yards, besting his 2016 number of 1,994 total yards as a rookie. His rushing total was down in 2018 from 2016, but he still had an excellent season.
No disrespect to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, or Chrisitan McCaffrey, but they don't have the credentials that Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table. Those guys are great running backs in their own right, but Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing in two of the three seasons he's been in the league and would have probably lead the league in 2017 had he not been suspended.
Since 2015, only Le'Veon Bell has averaged more total yards per game than Elliott, but Elliott's close and he's not used as much in the passing game as Bell. Only Todd Gurley has a higher average of rushing touchdowns per game than Elliott.
Elliott's 3.4 receptions per game through the first three seasons of his career is only slightly better than Todd Gurley who ranks sixth among this group of players. The Dallas Cowboys attempted to get Elliott more involved in 2018 but didn't work him downfield enough in his targets for him to be anything more than a dump-off option. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys should work to get him running more intermediate routes in the passing game because as we saw in the Detroit game last season, Elliott's got really good hands.
Historically, Elliott is off to a great start to his career. His first three years in the NFL compare quite favorably to two Hall of Famers and one of the most dynamic running backs of the early 21st century.
No player with more than 100 career attempts in the NFL has averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott.
Think about that for a second. Through his first three seasons, he's averaged more rushing yards per game than Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, and the list goes on and on.
If you look at what he's done compared to other players during their first three years. Only Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott in the first three seasons of their respective careers.
One of the things that people have used to knock Ezekiel Elliott has been the volume of carries that he's received, but there's a reason that the Dallas Cowboys lean on him so heavily. They've created a run-first identity and though at times it has made the offense somewhat inefficient, it's not because the player they're handing to is not a good player, but because every team in the NFL is expecting the Dallas Cowboys to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott.
In 2018 in particular, the Cowboys offensive coaching staff, namely the departed Scott Linehan, didn't do enough to create favorable matchups in the running game. Too often it was a first down run out of heavy personnel that the defense was expecting.
With two rushing titles already in the bag, there's no reason to expect anything different from Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. It's anticipated that the offensive gameplan and execution will be better in 2019 than it was in 2018. The offensive line will be better and with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, there's a thought that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be less predictable moving forward.
The debate will continue to rage over the value of extending Ezekiel Elliott with a contract that will carry him to his age 28 or 29 season, but there is no debating that Ezekiel Elliott is the best and most dominant running back in the NFL.
Is DeMarco Murray a Factor in Ezekiel Elliott’s Rumored Holdout?
There's been a lot of talk this week about a rumored training camp holdout by Ezekiel Elliott, with the Dallas Cowboys' star running back seeking a renegotiated contract. If Zeke does actually hold out, I can't help but wonder if the Cowboys' handling of DeMarco Murray a few years ago isn't a factor in his decision.
Quick history lesson; in 2014, Murray ran for the most yards (1,845) in Cowboys history for a single season. But that was also the final year of his rookie contract, and Dallas chose to let DeMarco leave in free agency when the two sides were unable to agree on new contract.
Murray had just turned 26 when he hit free agency, and his four years Dallas had not had consistent production or availability. 2014 was the first time he was able to play at such a high level, or played a full 16-game season.
As you might remember, Murray left and joined the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly. As with most things during Kelly's time in Philly, it proved to be a disaster. DeMarco was released after one year and then had a couple of seasons in Tennessee before retiring.
The way it all turned out seemed to validate the Cowboys' decision. Perhaps Murray's big year in 2014 was more about adding Zack Martin and Ron Leary to the offensive line than DeMarco himself. He certainly didn't look like the same player at any other point in his career.
But Ezekiel Elliott and his agent may not be too worried about all of those nuances. They may be looking at the simple fact that the Cowboys allowed one of the most productive RBs in football in 2014 to just walk away in free agency.
Zeke may be worried that Dallas will allow him to do the same.
There are some important differences to note between Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. For one, Elliott's been elite every season. He's led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last three years.
Zeke has also been faultlessly durable, missing no games due to injury. Murray had already missed 11 games his first three years before we even got to 2014.
However, there are some similarities that can't be ignored. While Elliott's never missed time for health reasons, he missed six games in 2017 due to a suspension for a domestic violence accusation. He also came dangerously close to missing more time this year due to an incident with a security guard in Las Vegas during the offseason.
Availability is availability, whether it's for behavioral issues or injuries. The team assumes the same risk either way.
Also, Elliott has had the same benefit of running behind this great Cowboys offensive line for the last three years. It hasn't been quite as good as 2014, with Ron Leary never being completely replaced, but he hasn't lacked for superior blocking compared to most NFL running backs.
Another factor; Zeke is due to turn 24 next week. That means he'd be 25 next year when playing on the 5th-year option, and about to turn 26 when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2021.
DeMarco Murray was also 26 when he hit free agency in 2015. And he'd only played four NFL seasons, while Zeke would have just finished his fifth.
I'm not saying that Murray and Elliott are the same player. Zeke has proven himself better over a long period of time and with less talent in front and around him. He's carried the offense without Tony Romo's passing or Jason Witten and Dez Bryant still in their prime, like DeMarco had in 2014.
But in 2015, with the prospect of competing for a Super Bowl well in reach, the Cowboys decided to gamble on the shaky Darren McFadden rather than pay DeMarco Murray market value. They trusted their system and offensive line to produce a successful running back.
Zeke may be worried that Dallas is preparing to take that same approach with him. They can keep playing him at a discount this year and in 2020, when even his raise to $9 million is still a bargain compared to guys like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell.
In 2021 the Cowboys could then hit Elliott with the franchise tag. He'd make a ton that year, but without any of the long-term security that other elite RBs are currently enjoying.
In that scenario, Zeke would now be turning 27 the next time free agency rolled around. And the window for getting a multi-year contract may have passed.
That's three more seasons for a major injury to finally find him. If nothing else, it's about 45-50 more games of NFL mileage that could scare other teams off.
Again, this notion of Ezekiel Elliott holding out is just a rumor right now. It may have been floated just to get some easy clicks at Pro Football Talk, which is hardly a new strategy for them.
But in all fairness, you can see why Zeke might be considering it. There's a fair reason to question the Cowboys long-term loyalty, and it goes back to how they handled their last star running back.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
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