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Kavner: Be Careful Messing With Good Thing In Free

Posted Apr 10, 2014


IRVING, TexasDoug Free’s a tackle, not a guard.

The idea to move Free inside came up last year, and it’s a thought that’s arisen again from some pundits if the Cowboys decide to draft a tackle in the first round. Only this time, the move for Free wouldn’t be by necessity, and it’s not the right way to go about it.

Free got experience inside at camp last year at guard when the offensive line’s depth was tested prior to the season, but it’s an unnecessarily perilous decision to start the 2014 season doing that. It’s especially dangerous and unnecessary considering the offensive line and Free, in particular, just wrapped up one of their best seasons in years.

The experiment to try Free at guard, initially, came after the offensive lineman’s contract was slashed and he was coming off a down year. That down year seemed to result from a lack of confidence and/or strength and technique. Jermey Parnell was a legitimate contender to earn the right tackle spot at the start of the 2013 season after rotating with Free at the end of 2012.

It didn’t happen that way because of how Free performed from the start in 2013.

Free looked more like the player who earned a four-year, $32 million deal in 2011 than the one who committed a team-high 15 penalties in 2012. He’d go on to cut that penalty number in half last season, committing eight penalties while starting all 16 games at right tackle. The Cowboys showed confidence in him, and he rewarded them with consistency.

Why mess with that?

If the Cowboys bumped Free inside for a new right tackle prospect, they’d be changing at least two of five positions in one of the few areas on the team commended for its play last year.

The offensive line was a major issue in 2012 and in years prior, but it got back on track in 2013. Tinkering with that gratuitously doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t need to be done.

That doesn’t mean the Cowboys should forgo adding pieces on the line entirely. They need more competition and depth, particularly on the interior, and many mock drafts have highly-touted offensive tackle Zack Martin going to the Cowboys at 16. 

But if the Cowboys drafted the Notre Dame lineman, it’d be a better idea to look at him inside first and eventually move him outside than to immediately bump Free to the interior.

The initial look at Free at guard last year wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for extenuating circumstances and injuries. No one’s sure how the line would’ve operated in the regular season had the move been permanent, and it turned out that Ron Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau performed adequately as starters throughout the second half of the year.

Drafting an offensive guard or tackle in the first round isn’t a necessity, but if it happens, the first move shouldn’t be to switch Free’s position.
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