IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.
Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full years removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding the team as they prepare for the 2013 campaign.
As we count down to camp, each day the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question concerning the roster.
With 80 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the new acquisition at tight end:
79) Will the Cowboys go a new direction at right tackle, making Doug Free continue a carousel of tackles to come and go since 2000?
The only certainty on the line next season is that Tyron Smith will start. Other than that, Phil Costa or Travis Frederick could start at center. Frederick could also play guard at either spot, where Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau started last year. Ronald Leary could also compete for a starting job at guard. Even more uncertain is who will be starting at tackle on the other side of the line from Smith.
Free didn't play up to the level expected of him when the Cowboys gave him a four-year, $32 million deal in July 2011, particularly with his play in 2012, when Jermey Parnell began rotating in with him.
The decision on Free's future will likely come to a head sometime in the next week or so. It's possible he takes a pay cut and competes with Parnell for the starting job. It's also possible he doesn't accept the pay cut and gets cut, opening up the spot perhaps for a free agent tackle. It's less likely that he stays on the roster at his current salary.
With free agents Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston still available in free agency, the questions will continue. The Cowboys have a tough decision to make in predicting Free's production. Free's one of 10 players to make at least three starts at right tackle since 2000. By starting on the line since 2009, he's already played in more games than most linemen who've come through the organization in recent years.
Nothing represents the constant in and out at tackle in the Cowboys' recent history like the No. 79. Since 2001, the Cowboys have had five offensive tackles wear the number, and none of them played more than two seasons with the team. Three of them played just one season or less, including Marques McFadden, Jacob Rogers and Rob Petitti.
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 79:
- Before the carousel with the No. 79 began in 2001, tackle Erik Williams donned the number for 10 years. He was a staple on the offensive line, winning three Super Bowls and getting named to four Pro Bowls. Star defensive end Harvey Martin also had the number for 11 seasons and was named to four Pro Bowls. The number returned to the defense last year with Ben Bass.
- The only 79th overall pick in Cowboys history was fullback Walt Garrison in 1966. The Oklahoma State product played all nine NFL seasons in Dallas, getting named to a Pro Bowl. The Cowboys grabbed another Oklahoma State player this year who will occupy the backfield in Joseph Randle. In the '79 draft, the Cowboys snagged tight end Doug Cosbie, who'd get named to three Pro Bowls in his 10-year career in Dallas. [embedded_ad]
- The 1979 season marked the last year at quarterback for Roger Staubach, who'd later be named to the Hall of Fame and get inducted into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. The two-time Super Bowl champion was a Super Bowl MVP and six-time Pro Bowl selection.
- The Cowboys had two 1,000-yard receivers in 1979 in Tony Hill and Drew Pearson, as well as a 1,000-yard rusher in Tony Dorsett. They finished the season 11-5, winning their fourth straight NFC East title.
- The Cowboys celebrated their 20th anniversary season in 1979. Star players from each of those 20 seasons, as well as coach Tom Landry, were introduced at halftime of the St. Louis Cardinals game on Oct. 21 that year.