IRVING, Texas – So far this offseason, there have been quite a few players manning the right tackle spot, from draft picks, to undrafted rookies with first-round grades, to a three-year veteran who has yet to take an NFL snap.
Still, it seems rather clear all of them are just keeping the seat warm for Doug Free, who is out this offseason after undergoing ankle surgery. Free has spent most of his summer rehabbing the injury and says he's getting close to normal again, but isn't quite sure when he'll be cleared for a return.
"I'm doing better. I'm almost back to 100 percent," Free said this week. "I've been doing some stuff out on the field and feeling great about it. I'm not exactly sure what (training staff) timeframe is. But I'm feeling good."
And not just physically either. Free hears the whispers of what the signing of La'el Collins might mean to his long-term future with the Cowboys, or at least for the starting right tackle position. But not only did Free said he's not worried about that, he's willing to help Collins in any way possible.
In fact, Free said he was more than excited when he learned Collins had signed with the Cowboys a few days after the draft.
"I think anytime you can get a guy with that kind of situation – a first-round type of guy with what we've got, the price was right," Free said. "It was a great decision. I think it'll be a great addition who can help us, if not this year, definitely in the future."
Entering his ninth season, Free knows nothing is guaranteed. So he's ready to compete for a job, but at the same time, he'll be a mentor to any and all teammates, even if they're fighting for his spot.
"You're always competing but me as an older player, I look to teach as much as I can compete," Free said. "But by not helping out somebody that could possibly help this team, I feel like I'd be hurting this team. No matter whether it's something that could possibly hurt me in the future or not, right now is right now. Whatever I could do to help this team I'm going to do it."
And this coming from a guy who said last year's injuries provided some of his toughest moments of his career. Free not only missed three games with a foot injury during the middle of the year, but sustained the ankle injury in mid-December against the Eagles. The second setback kept him out of the final two regular-season games, and then the two playoff matchups as well.
"It was very frustrating. Probably the most frustrating thing I've ever done," Free said. "Just feeling every week this would be the week I would play and it didn't happen. Just making it to the playoffs and having guys I've played so long with asking if I'm going to make it back. Just hard that it didn't work out."
Yet, that's just another reason why Free will be just as hungry as anyone else when the training camp and the season rolls around.