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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

2 Comments

  1. dallas1966

    January 23, 2017 at 1:20 am

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

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Star Blog

2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones

Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.

Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.

Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.

The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.

Pro Football Focus on Twitter

Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas

Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.

Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.

The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.

Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Time to Stop Making Excuses for QB Dak Prescott?

Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.

Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.

Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Pues en Dallas, hoy dos  jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.

Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.

Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.

Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.

Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL 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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Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

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Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 2

Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.

The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.

The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.

Lock Down the Big Guns

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

@Randy81MossRetires, via Twitter

Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.

Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.

As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.

Adding New Talent

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 1

@brkicks, via Twitter

One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.

Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.

If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.

Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.

Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.

The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.

As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.

Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.



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