Free started all 16 games at left tackle in 2010, after starting seven on the right side in 2009.
important spot on the field, he still only has 24 starts under his belt.
Is that enough to warrant a long-term deal? That's the question the Cowboys must answer.
It doesn't seem to be enough to warrant the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on him, just to protect his rights here during the unusual circumstances of the league. The franchise tag for offensive linemen this year will be around $10.3 million for one season.
OK, sorry, but while I do believe Free is going to be a really good left tackle and possibly a great one, I don't think he's earned the right to get a one-year deal worth $10 million. Seems like there might be a better middle ground than giving a guy $550,000 one year and then $10 million the next.
Yes, Free was good and maybe it's because we weren't quite sure how he would hold up all season long at left tackle. I'll be the first to admit I had my reservations about cutting Adams for Free. That's been documented and while I probably didn't give Free enough credit, I was thinking it would be pretty risky to let Adams go and assume the position would be just fine.
In reality, both arguments were probably accurate.
Of course, he had his moments of struggle - as to be expected with any first-year starter who faces the likes of Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Brian Orakpo, Dwight Freeney, Clay Matthews Jr., Trent Cole, Jared Allen and I'm sure there are more. That's a pretty healthy dose of pass-rushers.
But for the most part, Free manned his post. I wouldn't say he held his own because that sounds like he just battled even. This guy was better than that. He didn't exactly win the matchup against Freeney in Indianapolis, but he won more than he lost.
Now you can argue that Free was better on the left side than Adams, simply because of the penalties. But it might just go with the territory. Adams led the Cowboys in penalties in each of his last three seasons, including getting flagged for 13 in 2009. Free was the Cowboys' leader last year with 11. And I checked over in Pittsburgh this past season and Adams had eight penalties - fourth most on the team - while playing right tackle. Pittsburgh's most penalized player was Jonathan Scott with 11. And oh yeah, he plays left tackle.
It's the nature of the beast. The left tackle has to hold sometimes, to make sure his quarterback gets up after the play. I'm sure Cowboys fans all over wished someone would've held Michael Boley before he slammed Tony Romo to the turf.
So all this might sound like rambling, but that's sort of what you have to do when you're evaluating a player.
You take his good, the not-so-good, the great, the not-so-great and factor it into his age, experience and compare it to the rest of the league. Maybe it's not worth $10 million per season, but Free is certainly worth keeping. And with left tackles always being a premium, the Cowboys have to factor in the possibility that some team out there might think Free is worth that much.
If they can get a deal done with Free before the March 3 deadline, it would be ideal, but it's unlikely. There are just too many factors involved - it's probable the Cowboys will lay low and see how the dust settles.
But once it does, locking up Free should be atop the priority list.