(Editor's Note: This is the sixth of an 11-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 2015 season. Today we examine the offensive tackles.)
Pressing Matters:The Cowboys have a lot of positions that have some question marks regarding free agency, but offensive tackle is right up there. Not only is right tackle Doug Free an unrestricted free agent, but his backup, Jermey Parnell, is as well. On the left side, things are rock solid with Tyron Smith, who just made his second straight Pro Bowl. But the Cowboys must decide what to do with the right tackle spot. Free took less money in 2013, but responded with two good seasons on the right side. He did miss some time with a pair of injuries this past year and Parnell took advantage of the extended playing time. While Free might be a better overall player, he is 31, opposed to Parnell, who is only 28 and has less tread on his tires. Either way, the Cowboys must re-sign one of them, if not both.
2014 Evaluation: Before his foot injury in Seattle, Free was having one of his best seasons at right tackle. He came back after missing three games and returned to form before another injury setback that ultimately cost him the rest of the season. Parnell is not as polished, but the former basketball player makes up for it with some athleticism. He played well in relief and might make this a tougher decision for the Cowboys, who could opt to keep the younger, perhaps cheaper Parnell. And let's not forget about the all-important left side, where Smith has become everything the Cowboys expected when they drafted him No. 9 overall in the 2011 draft. With two straight Pro Bowls, Smith lived up to the enormous contract he signed before the season and appears to be the fixture on the left side of the line for many years to come.
Need More From … It's hard to ask for more from anyone at this position. Smith is an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. Free was having a great year before his injuries and Parnell stepped up and proved he is more than capable of starting. Maybe the answer is with backup Darrion Weems, a player the Cowboys have high hopes for, but haven't seen materialized yet. Last year, Weems was injured and eventually landed on IR with a bad shoulder. The Cowboys might not be able to re-sign both Free and Parnell and while they could draft someone, getting Weems to step up as swing tackle would be the best outcome financially. If he's fully rehabbed, Weems could help the Cowboys' depth issues at tackle.
Upgrades Needed:Just about every coach will say they're always looking to get better, but this is a scenario where it's more important not to take a step backward. The left tackle is in great shape, but if they digress on the right side, the overall success of the offense and running game could suffer. So re-signing the guys they have is important and if an upgrade occurs, it's even better. The goal for 2015 would likely be to maintain the level of play that has been on the right side for a few seasons now.
By The Numbers:
- With two straight Pro Bowl selections, Smith became the first Cowboys tackle since Flozell Adams (2008) with back-to-back trips.
- Parnell played 388 snaps and was flagged for just one penalty.
- The Cowboys ranked second in the NFL with a 147.1 yard rushing average, placed 16th in passing at 235.5 yards per game and finished with the No. 7 offense overall in the league at 382.6 yards per game on average.
Position Series: Offensive Tackle