*Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2016 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features offensive tackle Doug Free.)*
Name: Doug Free
Position: Offensive Tackle
Experience: 9 seasons
College: Northern Illinois
Key stat:With nine flags on the year, Free was the third-most penalized offensive lineman on the roster, behind Zack Martin and Tyron Smith. Eight of the nine flags were for false start, while the other was for holding.
Contract Status:Signed through 2017.
2015 Impact:Free was one of the leaders of this offensive line. He might not be the best player of the group, but he is always willing to share his knowledge with the younger guys. The work ethic and development of this line is due in large part to his willingness to be in that leadership role. There is no question that Zack Martin is where he is at in his career due to working with Free -- not only on the field, but in the class room as well. Free was dealing with a foot injury to start the season and it affected the way that he played, especially early in the campaign. He didn't have the movement that he enjoyed in previous seasons. For the most part he has always been very consistent, dependable and productive in his job. He is technique-driven in the way that he plays. When it's bad – he is bad. There are snaps where his pad level is much too high and his legs become straight, and that affects his ability to move and adjust -- which is the strength of his game. He is never going to be a power player, but his strength is functional and when he plays with leverage, he can make it work. His hands and the placement of them is really what is key for him. He will give up some push when they are not right. He is a productive player in the running game when he can get out on the edge to use his athletic ability.* *
Where He Fits: I feel that he takes more heat for his play than he should. He's not as bad as people think. To the point in his career where he has two or three good seasons left in him. I expect he will be the bridge to the next guy -- whether that is Chaz Green or someone else. He will be continue to serve as a leader in that room as his young teammates continue to develop.
David Helman: People look at Doug Free's $5 million salary and his lack of Pro Bowl nominations and seem hell-bent on replacing him in the starting lineup. I can't count how many times I've fielded questions about cutting Free and moving Chaz Green or La'el Collins into his position. Simply put, I don't really understand it. No, he's not the best tackle on this team. He's probably the least-talented member of the starting line. But that's much more an indicator of the talent level on the line than Free's ability. Aside from a troubling tendency for false starts, Free enjoyed a solid 2015 season on the right side, and he's clearly proven he's a preferable option to an unproven Green. What the Cowboys decide to do going forward will be interesting. Free only has two seasons left on his contract, and Green is clearly waiting as the heir apparent. But for the time being he has proven himself more than capable as a solid right tackle and a veteran leader in the locker room. Fans might clamor for a new face, but I don't think he's going anywhere – nor should he.