(Editor's Note: This is the third of a 12-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys' roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2013 season. Today we examine the offensive tackles.)
Pressing Matters:The most pressing of issues is figuring out the right tackle position and the future of Doug Free, who still is under contract for four more seasons. But, the Cowboys could entertain the thought of cutting Free this offseason. If it happens before June 1, it would basically be a wash and they wouldn't owe anything on the cap or save any money. If he is designated as a June 1 cut, similarly to how they handled the Terence Newman situation, they would save about $7 million off this year's cap but would then owe $7 million next year. The question will come down to if they think Jermey Parnell is ready to take over.
2012 Evaluation: In most cases, we seem to remember what happened at the end of the season and use it for the basis of the full evaluation. That's what happens for Romo and even Dez Bryant – both on opposite ends of the spectrum. But the exception to that rule is probably with the offensive tackles. They actually played better as the year went on, but it was so hit-and-miss early in the year that it's doubtful the improved play will be enough to overshadow the slow start. Both Free and Tyron Smith had their struggles. Free ended up with 15 penalties against him, among the league leaders, and was eventually forced into a rotation with Parnell at right tackle for the final month of the season. That move seemed to improve the play of both players, especially Free. Overall, the tackle position struggled and needs to be improved in 2013.
Need More From … : The obvious answer is at right tackle, but the Cowboys also need more from Smith, too. He's a first-round pick, No. 9 overall in 2011, and he didn't always play like one. Smith was flagged for 11 penalties last season, but did seem to settle down toward the end of the year and play his best. Regardless of what happens on the other side, Smith will likely be an anchor on this line for years to come. He has been good, but at No. 9 overall, the Cowboys are looking for great.
Upgrades Needed:If the Cowboys decide to part ways with Free, it shouldn't be a given that Parnell slides into the starting role. He's started once in his career and did a nice job on short notice at left tackle. Still, the Cowboys need some depth at tackle no matter what happens with the Free-Parnell situation. This is a position that shouldn't be overlooked in the draft, in any round. Even if there is a quality tackle to be picked at No. 18 overall, the Cowboys should be interested, especially if Free is no longer in the mix.
Doug Free – Hasn't lived up to the contract that averages about $8 million per season, resulting in him losing his full-time starting job late last season.
Tyron Smith – After slow start, quietly put together a solid season at left tackle.
Jermey Parnell – Continuing to make progress in his career. Took advantage of start on Thanksgiving and played well in rotation with Free. Could start next season.
Darrion Weems – Cowboys signed him off Denver's practice squad for the future. His size (6-5, 320) is worth the look.
Aderious Simmons – Speaking of size, this 6-7, 310-pound prospect was added to the team earlier this month. He'll stand out, literally, but he needs to do more than that.
Bryant Broaddus on the Cowboys' current OT situation:
One of the biggest questions during training camp this past season was how would Smith adjust from the right side to the left and would Free play better than he did in 2011? Initially, Smith did have his problems but it wasn't because of his ability, but more of having to …… (to read more, click here)