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.
That 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.
Put 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.
If 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.
There 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.
Where In The World Is DE Taco Charlton?
Over pretty much the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been rock solid with their first round picks. With selections of Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Leighton Vander Esch (just to name a handful), Dallas has rebuilt the core of their roster through the NFL Draft.
It's nearly impossible to bat .1000 in any round of the draft, however, and this appears to be the current case with the Cowboys' 2017 first round pick.
Defensive end Taco Charlton has not had the sophomore season that he, or anyone, had hoped for. A healthy scratch last Sunday, Charlton has only been active for 1 of the Cowboys' last 5 games, and has not recorded a sack or tackle since week 9.
Prior to disappearing with injuries and "attitude issues," Charlton had only recorded 1 sack on the season and was beginning to fall behind his Hot Boy-brethren. Defensive end Randy Gregory has reached his form over the last few weeks, Tyrone Crawford is having arguably a career year, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best ends in all of football.
This doesn't leave much room for Charlton, who's now having issues even getting on the gameday roster. Rod Marinelli dodged questions about Taco Charlton earlier this week, vaguely saying they are "moving forward" and that he'd like to talk about other players on his defensive line who are performing.
Rod Marinelli on Taco Charlton's benching and being inactive last week: "We just keep moving along keep going forward. It's kinda been out there I'd leave it at that. I'd rather talk about our two tackles.
Charlton has not been quiet about his displeasure as of late, either. He's taken to Twitter to voice his frustrations, saying that not only is his shoulder fine but that the Dallas media is making up stories about his absence. He's also posted some cryptic tweets such as this one, with a picture of Allen Iverson and a caption reading "Every players needs that one coach to believe in them."
Maybe Taco is right. Maybe he just needs increased opportunity and a support system/coach that believes in him whole-heartedly. After all, Charlton has faced nothing but doubters and detractors since the second he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
But in the NFL, the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, it's hard to imagine he'll get that unwavering support anywhere in the league. He's going to have to "earn" his playing time, as head coach Jason Garrett spoke to earlier in the week. But with the plethora of talent the Cowboys are already putting out there on the defensive line, it's becoming difficult to see exactly where Taco Charlton can fit in on this defense.
It's possible, and fine, if it is simply not a fit between Charlton and the Cowboys at this point. But I'd also be wary of giving up on your first round pick in just his second NFL season. Another offseason with the team, working on his craft and getting fully healthy, should do Charlton wonders, and hopefully allow us to get a better read on his future with the Cowboys going forward.
Until then, we are all left to scratch out heads and wonder what in the world is going on with the Cowboys and Taco Charlton, and if the former first round pick will have a future in Dallas at all.
Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC
2018 has seen the emergence of high-powered offenses in both NFL conferences. The Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the AFC and the NFC is spearheaded by the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Through 14 weeks, these three teams are the top three offenses in the NFL, each averaging over 30 points per game. This year, for the first time in NFL history, two teams scored more than 50 in the same game.
Thanks to this consistent impressive offensive performances, you would think "offense" is the name of the game for the 2018 NFL season. Well, not so fast, my friend. Despite sitting atop the NFC, the Saints and the Rams have recently suffered losses that indicate hope is anything but lost for defensive teams in the league.
The Chicago Bears were able to bring down the Rams last Sunday Night 15-6. The same offense that averages 33 points per game was limited to six points. Sean McVay's remarkable offense went home with no touchdowns to talk about on the plane back home. Instead, they probably discussed Jared Goff's four interceptions.
Weeks earlier, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they brought down the Saints. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas simply couldn't move the ball against Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones. 13 points were all the Cowboys needed to score to beat an offense that was averaging 37 per game heading into week 13 but was only able to put up 10 in Dallas.
The Cowboys are the #4 seed with the Bears slightly ahead of them as the #3 seed in the NFC. Together, these teams have defeated the top two in the conference. Now granted, playoffs will definitely be different.
For starters, if they are to advance to the divisional round, they'll be on the road. Chicago was surely benefited by playing in such a cold weather versus a Los Angeles team. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, few times has AT&T Stadium been as loud as when they beat the Saints.
Hopefully, we'll get to see both of these elite defenses advance to the Divisional Round to square off against this couple of high-powered offenses again. We will not only be witnessing amazing football games, but a great discussion regarding the everlasting debate between offense and defense.
For years, "defense wins championships" has been a widely accepted statement in football. The Cowboys and Bears have made that same statement resound recently with their impressive wins.
Can they do it again in January football? Can they do it on the road?
Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival
Al igual que el resto de la afición de los Dallas Cowboys, parte de mí se siente confiada respecto a este equipo visitando a Indianapolis Colts y resultando victoriosos. ¿El problema? Los Colts no son un rival sencillo de vencer. Si crees que la racha de los Cowboys los intimidará, piensa de nuevo. Los Houston Texans llevaban nueve victorias al hilo antes de enfrentarse a este equipo.
Siendo objetivos, este puede ser el partido que evite que los Cowboys cierren su temporada con ocho victorias al hilo para terminar el año con un récord de 11-5. Ni los Tampa Bay Buccaneers ni los New York Giants deberían presentar amenaza alguna contra Dallas. Lo mismo no se puede decir de Indianapolis.
Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, Andrew Luck está realmente de vuelta. Gracias a una reconstrucción de su línea ofensiva, su nivel de juego a regresado al nivel que conocíamos de él desde que llegó a la NFL. Afortunadamente para los Colts, Luck se ha mantenido sano toda la temporada y no se ve rastro alguno de sus lesiones anteriores en el emparrillado.
T.Y. Hilton está teniendo un muy buen año y sin duda alguna presentará un reto para Byron Jones y el resto de la secundaria de los Cowboys. Eric Ebron en la posición de tight end también será un dolor de cabeza para la defensiva.
Lo más interesante se dará en las trincheras. Los Cowboys han hecho un muy buen trabajo presionando quarterbacks opuestos en la temporada, pero si el centro de los Colts, Ryan Kelly está sano el domingo, se enfrentarán al mejor duo de centro-guardia en la liga actualmente. Con Quenton Nelson al lado, Luck estará muy bien protegido.
Sin embargo, Kelly no ha jugado debido a una lesión y aún está por verse si tomará el campo el domingo por la mañana. Los Cowboys hicieron un muy buen trabajo a la entonces ofensiva #1 de la liga, los New Orleans Saints, pero eso no significa que la ofensiva #8 que tienen los Colts no los retará.
Promediando 27 puntos por juego, la defensiva necesitará ayuda de Dak Prescott y compañía para ganar el partido. Dallas continúa moviendo el balón efectivamente, pero es tiempo de anotar touchdowns y no goles de campo.
Ezekiel Elliott será, una vez más, clave para la victoria. Enfrentándose a una defensiva Top 10 contra el juego terrestre, mover las cadenas con Zeke no será tan fácil. El novato Darius Leonard como linebacker ha sido algo espectacular otra temporada al igual que Leighton Vander Esch. Liderando a toda la NFL en tackleadas, estará listo para recibir a los Cowboys al Lucas Oil Stadium.
Lo más importante de este partido...
Por más impresionante que sea la racha de cinco victorias consecutivas, los Cowboys tienen que demostrar que pueden ganarle a un equipo fuerte estando de visita. Porque hay que admitirlo, Jason Garrett y su equipo no han tenido éxito fuera de casa. Claro, le ganaron a un equipo debilitado de Philadelphia Eagles y a unos Atlanta Falcons que va 4-9.
Este equipo "nuevo" de los Cowboys no ha ido contra un rival de calidad siendo el visitante. Es tiempo de demostrar que lo pueden hacer, ya que si quieren contender en postemporada, es justo lo que necesitarán... jugar bien de visita.
Sinceramente creo que los Cowboys ganan este partido. Principalmente gracias a su defensiva, pero también veo a la ofensiva dominar el tiempo de posesión en un juego de pocos puntos. Es tiempo de mantener esa racha.
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