Cowboys could stay status quo at tackle

May, 6, 2013
5/06/13
4:35
PM ET
Yeah, yeah, I know. The end of Doug Free's time with the Dallas Cowboys was supposed to be one of the foregone conclusions of this offseason, performance and economic reasons combining to eliminate any argument for keeping the free-agent bust around. But the Cowboys didn't take a tackle in the draft, and possible free-agent replacement Tyson Clabo signed with the Dolphins over the weekend. Another possible replacement, Eric Winston, remains unsigned, but as Todd Archer writes for ESPNDallas.com, don't assume the Cowboys are in the market. They may just go with Free and Jermey Parnell at right tackle again:
Had Parnell shown enough to win over the coaches and front office, there would not be this amount of discussion about keeping Free, who struggled in 2012. Over the last few weeks, the Cowboys – well, Jerry and Stephen Jones at least – have made it clear that it is time they start using younger players sooner, the way other teams across the league do.

That’s a fine thing for them to say while a coach like Jason Garrett does everything he can to hang on to a job. He has to win games this year, not necessarily develop players.

...

The Cowboys lived with Free’s struggles for the first 12 games before finally relenting and putting Parnell at right tackle on every other series. He was OK. Nothing great and not as good as Free down the stretch.

And that’s why the Cowboys – well, at least Stephen Jones – have been emphatic about wanting to keep Free, but at a reduced rate from the $7 million he is scheduled to make this season.

(Permit me a side note, please: If the guys who are deciding the team needs to go with younger players are the same guys who pick the head coach, it'd be pretty tough for them not to factor the first decision into the second, right? But whatever. We'll have time on here to debate Garrett's job security. You guys always seem to think he has less than I think he does.)

Anyway, the point here is about Free, whether there's a spot for him on the team and if so what that spot is. I still don't understand how any none-Jones logic says he should still be in the picture. Todd compares the Cowboys' still having Free on the roster to Linus hanging onto his blanket, but Linus' blanket wasn't a $32 million purchase that turned out to be full of holes as soon as he unwrapped it. Free absolutely has to go, and if the replacement is Parnell or Winston or Max Starks or whoever, they're not going to play worse than Free did in 2012. The stuff about how he got better at the end of the year is bogus, too. Offensive lines always get better as the year goes along, and when you start from where Free did, you only have one direction in which you can go.

If Free is really giving the Cowboys a hard time about a pay cut, then there's no sense in keeping him around. But the Joneses don't like to part with their players or admit mistakes, so the situation remains in limbo. They can't get the savings from cutting him until June 1 anyway, so there's no rush from that end of things. But as other options disappear from the market, you're left with the once-unthinkable idea that Free could be the Cowboys' starting right tackle again in 2013.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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