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Wrong Tackle: Time For Cowboys To Replace Doug Free

Jess Haynie

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Doug Free, #68

The first few days after a crushing postseason loss are a dangerous time for roster discussion. It's easy to let the pain of defeat cloud judgment. You're prone to focusing on the negatives from one game and losing sight of the overall good from the season, or even an entire career.

Doug FreeThat said, I feel pretty clear-eyed when I say that it's time for Doug Free to go. The negatives are now outweighing the positives. The level of liability is too great for a team that plans on continuing to be in the Super Bowl discussion.

Last night's playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers gave us a microcosm of where Doug Free is now as a player. The run blocking was great, helping Ezekiel Elliott rack up 125 yards and a 5.7 average per carry. However, Free's eternal penchant for penalties and diminishing ability in pass protection were a major detriment to the offense.

If you step back from any single game and look at things from a broader perspective, it's easy to get comfortable again with Doug Free. He's a veteran who's been with you since 2007. Free is a great run blocker on a team that has developed its identity on running the ball. That is no small thing and may have even kept Free with the Cowboys longer than some other teams would've had him.

The problem with Free's overall game, though, is that his weaknesses can end a drive on just a single play. One penalty can put that first-down marker out of reach. One pass-protection breakdown can do the same, or even lead to a turnover.

Doug Free, Dak Prescott, PackersPut the team in a 2nd or 3rd-and-long situation and you're probably taking the ball out Ezekiel Elliott's hands and moving the pressure back to Dak Prescott. Now you've got to throw it, and now Doug Free is again being relied upon not to draw another flag and to hold up in a clear passing situation.

Essentially, even though he's great as a run blocker, Free also works against your running game with his mistakes. He can negate a great Elliot run with a penalty, or make it to where you can't even give Elliott the ball to keep a drive going. We've seen it too often over the years, and increasingly so in 2016.

Not only is Doug Free's play declining but his cap hit is rising. He is scheduled to count $7.5 million against the Cowboys' cap in 2017. According to Spotrac.com, that is currently the third-highest cap hit for a right tackle.

Dallas can easily shed Free's contract from a financial standpoint. There is only $2.5 million in dead money from cutting him, which creates a savings of $5 million. That's a nice chunk of change for the Cowboys as they look to make improvements on their defense.

Granted, they will also have to replace Doug Free at right tackle. This year we saw good things from Chaz Green prior to his injury and solid play from backup Emmett Cleary. Dallas might allow those two to compete for the job while also bringing in a veteran insurance policy for about $1 million.

Doug FreeIf Dallas does move on, it will mark the end of a polarizing 10-year run for Doug Free as a Cowboy. A fourth-round pick in 2007, Free is the only remaining player from that class. He may actually be the most successful; Anthony Spencer never lived up to his first-round status and guys like James Marten and Isaiah Stanback didn't last in the league.

Free has played both left and right tackle for the Cowboys over the years. He helped the team transition from the days of Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo, a solid offensive line in its own right, to the incredible group they have now.

Doug's time in Dallas nearly ended after the 2012 season. He'd had a bad year and was starting to lose ground to backup Jermey Parnell. Free had to accept a pay cut to remain a Cowboy, which he obviously did, and ended up staying for another four seasons.

At this point it's about more than just money. Having just turned 33-years-old yesterday, Doug Free's diminishing returns are only going to get worse. He could still start for some teams in the NFL, but the Cowboys have their sights set high with the new nucleus of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and their young bulwarks on the offensive line.

Wrong Tackle: Time For Cowboys To Replace Doug Free 2There will always be weak links on any football team. Maybe the Cowboys can live with Free's weaknesses for another year if he agrees to another pay cut. Right now, that's the only scenario that I think could allow for him to return.

More than likely, though, Dallas will continue their youth movement and look for more upside. They should be able to adequately replace Free and still have money left over to help at other positions. It's always hard to turn down that opportunity.

Dallas faces a lot of tough decision this offseason. They have plenty of question marks on defense and several key players with expiring contracts. That's all the more reason to tighten up where you can and create some extra cap space. Free may be the cleanest cap casualty they have on the roster.

Doug Free has started all but five games for the Cowboys since 2010. He's had ups and downs, being a part of record-breaking seasons for DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott while also being the team's most consistent punchline for penalties and mistakes. Other than Jason Witten's weekly false start call, nobody could draw a flag with more predictability than Free.

Free hasn't been a joke, though. He went from a fourth-round pick to a decade-long fixture. Longevity doesn't come easy in the NFL. Anybody who makes it this long deserves our respect.


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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2 Comments
  • dallas1966

    It’s time for the Cowboys to go young @ RT, to maximize the Dak Attack [Dez], and Zeke

Star Blog

Could a Former Division Rival be Cowboys’ LG Solution?

Brian Martin

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Could Former Division Rival be Cowboys' OG Solution?

When it comes to prioritizing the Dallas Cowboys offseason needs, offensive guard is definitely near the top of the list. Opinions will certainly vary, but for me, solidifying the offensive line with a new starting left guard is the top priority for the Cowboys.

I know many of you will disagree and believe the Dallas Cowboys need to continue to upgrade their defense. But, this teams success or failure will be determined by how their offensive line performs. That's just the way the Cowboys are built, which is why they have invested so heavily putting this unit together.

Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, but there is currently no one on the roster to step into the vacant left guard position unless you want to see the coaching staff give Chaz Green another try.

No, I didn't think so.

With the start of the 2018 free agency just a few weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys have certainly narrowed down some of the potential free agents they would be interested in bringing aboard if the price is right. Remember, they have turned into "bargain shoppers".

There are a few intriguing free agent options who I believe could step in to upgrade the LG position for the Cowboys next season, and not break the bank. One such option is a former division rival of the New York Giants, Justin Pugh.

Justin Pugh

New York Giants OL Justin Pugh

The former 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has spent five years in New York while playing out his rookie contract, but that time has come to an end. The Giants aren't likely to re-sign him, which means he will get his first taste of free agency.

Justin Pugh could step in and be an immediate upgrade over what the Dallas Cowboys employed at the left guard position in 2017. He has exceptional mobility. He reaches the second level with ease and plays with good body control and footwork. He is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys employ.

Pugh is also versatile. He has played both right tackle and offensive guard for the Giants. He of course would be asked to play between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith at LG with the Cowboys, but versatility to play another position is never a bad thing.

Unfortunately, Pugh doesn't come without baggage. He has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons with the Giants, including eight last season due to a back injury. This is definitely a huge red flag, especially for the Cowboys after dealing with the same issue with Tyron Smith.

But, this is why Justin Pugh will likely be in the Cowboys price range. Sportrac currently estimates his contract at 4 years at $23,983,847, which equates to $5,995,968 annually. I personally think that's a little low for someone of Pugh's caliber and versatility, but it certainly understandable when you take into account his recent injury history.

I personally think this is a longshot to happen because  the Cowboys would prefer to go younger and cheaper, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Do you think Justin Pugh makes sense for the Cowboys?


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Star Blog

Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Sadly, we can't wake up on Sundays to NFL football. The Dallas Cowboys are not on TV every week for us to watch them play. To make matters worse, we'll have to wait until September to get real football from our favorite team.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about until then! For the die-hard Cowboys fan, the offseason should be quite entertaining. Free agency will begin in March, and it should be an intense one for Dallas.

They need to handle a tight salary cap while trying to add a bit of help for this football team. Recently, Inside The Star Contributor John Williams wrote an in-depth piece about the Cowboys' cap situation and how they can manage to get things done, despite having little cap space right now.

Last season, I wrote a weekly Cowboys Wishlist about things I wanted to see for each game. Now there are no games, but I decided to write a special edition for this upcoming free agency.

Cowboys en Español: El Futuro de David Irving y DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving, DeMarcus Lawrence (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

Wish #1: Keep The Rushmen

The front office will have one hell of a challenge trying to retain all of its free agents. The two most important ones may be their two defensive linemen. If they can keep them, DL won't be a top need heading to the Draft.

Lawrence is one of the biggest names in free agency this 2018, but the Cowboys should find a way to keep him from ever being available.

If they're able to franchise tag him, that'd be the way to go since he's only had one elite season in his four-year career and they may not want to sign him to a huge long-term deal and risk not seeing the same guy next season.

David Irving is a more polarizing player, with off-the-field issues. However, he's been a very disruptive guy and he has the chance to be a unique player. His talent is really out of this world. Keeping him and Irving would give this franchise a top defensive line for the first time in many years.

Anthony Hitchens 1

Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Wish #2: Pay Anthony Hitchens

When healthy, Sean Lee is one of the NFL's top linebackers. He is simply an outstanding player who's always around the ball and seems to know where the ball is going before the opposing coach even calls the play.

The problem is, he has a lot of trouble remaining available. Anthony Hitchens is a guy who's found the way to step up every time the General is out, and he's shown a great progression as a player year after year.

Lee will be 32 by the time the season starts, giving Dallas something to think about. Hitchens is a guy capable of starting and competing in the NFL. If the front office finds a way to keep him, they'll be getting closer to being less "Sean Lee-dependent."

Wish #3: Get Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas

When we talk about a potential big name addition to the Dallas Cowboys, we're usually a bit pessimistic. This team isn't one that makes splashes like this, but Earl Thomas to Dallas makes a ton of sense. Former Seahawks' defensive coordinator is now the Cowboys' defensive backs' coach.

With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis (and maybe Byron Jones moving to CB), this team will have a promising secondary. Add Earl Thomas, and it will go from "promising" to "great" in a heartbeat.

The Cowboys could not only have a top DL, but a top secondary if they're able to get this veteran.

Let's hope the Cowboys listen to Thomas and they go get him.

A Case For Dez Bryant Remaining a Dallas Cowboy in 2018

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Wish #4: Get Dez Bryant to Take a Pay Cut

When I started writing this, I wanted to add a "get this wide receiver in FA"... but I won't. A few weeks ago, I wrote a case in favor and one against Dez Bryant remaining a Cowboy in 2018. Personally, I would be fine with him parting ways with the team.

However, I'm aware of how hard it can be finding a replacement for a guy like #88. The biggest issue with Dez is definitely his cap hit. He hasn't justified the money he's being paid on the field as he should be.

If they can get him to take a pay cut, it may end up being the ideal scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.

It'll be a very interesting offseason, and here at Inside The Star we'll continue to provide you with content about it all.

Tell me what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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Star Blog

Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys' 2018 Offseason

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation rejoiced. By some, including myself, the product out of North Carolina was considered a steal by America's Team. Taking a guy who could contribute from day one for special teams and for the offense was something to be happy about.

At the time, WR didn't look like much of a need. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley were staying in Dallas and Terrance Williams had just been re-signed (little did we know he'd fail to score a single touchdown in 2017) pushing the receiver position down the team needs list.

But the front office had landed a very productive slot receiver from North Carolina. On top of that, they found a guy to replace Lucky Whitehead as a return specialist. However, offseason hype took over a large amount of Cowboys' fans, writers and analysts and the expectations for Switzer were very big.

Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

Naturally, he was compared to Cole Beasley since people started talking about him as an NFL prospect. His height, skills and playing style were similar and with the Cowboy veteran coming off from a big year in 2016, people were excited for what Switzer could do as a professional football player.

But it wasn't just about the rookie returning punts and kickoffs, it was about him contributing to an offense that already had a great slot receiver. Cowboys Nation was excited to see Switzer and Beasley on the field at the same time.

That never happened.

Switzer barely saw playing time in 2017 and when he was on the field as a WR, he was limited to running or faking jet sweeps. The coaching staff misused him and we didn't get to see him get a lot of snaps until the final week of the season, when #11 was injured.

And it was that same week when we saw what he was capable of. Switz showed how talented he is and how he can beat NFL defensive backs when he was asked to do so.

Cowboys Offense: More Hot Sauce Needed From Cole Beasley 3

Dallas Cowboys WR Cole Beasley (Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY)

With a busy offseason and a tight salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys' front office will be considering a lot of possibilities. One of them will be the future of Cole Beasley. Releasing him would free up more than $3M in cap space.

I know a large amount of Cowboys' fans prefer to see Dez Bryant gone over him, but we can't deny that there's already a clear replacement for Beasley in Switzer.

The Cowboys wanted Switzer to be a returner and a receiver for them, but if they're going to use him just as a gadget player on offense... was the fourth-round pick worth it? If you're not going to use one of them, why have two players who are very similar on your roster?

Cowboys Nation loves Cole Beasley, as they should. I for one wouldn't want to see #11 on another team. Even still, it's only fair to admit that it would make sense for Dallas if they were to say goodbye to one of their most beloved players.

Tell me what you think about "Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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