(Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players’ impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2012 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features tackle Doug Free.)
Name: Doug Free
Position: Right Tackle
Height/Weight: 6-6/ 325
Experience: 6 seasons
College: Northern Illinois
Key stat: Free started all 16 games, but he wasn’t on the field for every snap toward the end of the season. A rotation with Jermey Parnell occurred at right tackle during and after the Bengals game in with four weeks left in the season.
Contract Status: Signed through 2014.
2012 Impact: The goal for Doug Free in 2012 was simple, play better than he did in 2011. At this time last season, Free was shifted from left tackle to the right side to allow Tyron Smith to move to the other side. I was one of those that believed before the season that the switch back to the right side would help Free regain some of that confidence that he lost during the 2011 season. There were times early in the 2012 campaign where Free was struggling badly with his technique and it appeared that he was once again heading down that same road that he had before.
When Free gets in the most trouble is when he misses with his hands and his punch ends up on the outside of the frame of the rusher and then he allows him to get inside on him thus taking him back to the quarterback. Despite his weight, Free is not that strong in the upper or lower body and when he misses with his hands, he can’t sit down on rushers. Where Free can do some good in the running game is not as a power player, but on down blocks to seal, backside reaches and getting outside in space. In the middle of the season, there were some games where Free did play better. Against Philadelphia, he held Jason Babin off the stat sheet when I really thought he was going to struggle badly.
The coaches made the determination to have him split time with Jermey Parnell in the Cincinnati game, and that carried through the end of the season. In going back and looking at the games, it really was a smart move for the club because not only did it get Parnell more work but it seemed to take the pressure off Free where he didn’t have to play those 15 to 20 plays. The move allowed Free to refocus, which in the long run helped him.
Where He Fits: In an offseason where every dollar has to be accounted for, Free’s contract puts him in a tough situation. The club will have to make a decision on him this spring whether to keep him at his current salary, redo the deal or completely move on all together. There has been talk about playing him inside at guard but I wouldn’t do it, just not enough power for my liking. He did play better in the latter part of the season, but again, money is tight. If Free does in fact come back, he should still stay at his right tackle spot and battle Parnell for that job. If the team does move on, there will be some options for them to consider in this draft if they don’t think that Parnell cannot handle the job. An interesting name might be Lane Johnson if that is the case who should be the third tackle off the board.
Writers' Analysis: Rowan Kavner – Inking Free, a top priority in July 2011, to a four-year deal seemed like a good idea at the time after a few productive seasons. Just two years into that deal, and it’s now possible Free may never play another snap in Dallas. The Cowboys could choose to open up cap room by releasing the right tackle, who struggled during the 2012 season and eventually rotated with Parnell. Free led the team with 15 penalties, including eight false starts and seven holding calls, two of which were declined. The Cowboys haven’t ruled out the possibility of potentially shifting him to a different position on the line. The future of Free, who moved from left tackle to right tackle last season, is completely in the balance at this point.