The Cowboys could move Tyron Smith to LT as a way to avoid paying Doug Free “LT money”


Blocking Trent Cole pays better than blocking Juqua Parker

Last season there were questions about whether Doug Free was ready to play at left tackle, after the Cowboys jettisoned long-time starter Flozell Adams.   He was ready, and then some.  The 27-year-old Free was among the few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous season.  For the non-Cowboy fan readers, Free isn’t going to drive many NFL defensive linemen off the ball and open up gaping holes in the run game, but he is very athletic, has extremely quick feet for a guy his size (6’6, 320), and excels in pass protection.


On the other side of the line, there was Marc Colombo, who unlike Free, was awful in 2010.  The Cowboys used the 9th overall pick in the draft to select Tyron Smith out of USC to replace Colombo.  Smith is seen as a kid with the potential to eventually be a top flight LT in the NFL, although he played RT in college.  I immediately assumed the Cowboys would slide Smith into Colombo’s spot at RT and continue to let Free play well at LT.  No fuss, no muss.

But then reports started to trickle in that Smith might start 2011 at LT, and Free move back over to RT, where he played in relief of an injured Colombo at the tail end of 2009.  I chalked it up to nonsense.  Why move an almost sure thing like Free out of perhaps the second most important position on the football field over to the other side of the line to make room for a completely untested rookie that didn’t even play LT last season in college?  At the very least, why not at least let Smith get his NFL sea legs under him at RT and see how he performs there before putting him in a larger role?  After all, Smith can’t even legally drink a beer until December – He’s going to be around for a long time (or at least that’s the plan, anyway).  Why rush him?

And then it hit me yesterday… Money.

(cont after the jump)…

In March, Free received the dreaded restricted free agent tender from the Cowboys.  They tendered him at the highest level (Free will make roughly $3.5 million in 2011), and any team that makes an offer to Free that the Cowboys choose to decline will have to part with a first and third round draft pick.  Free only has 4 years of NFL service, so while the outcome of the CBA is yet to be determined, there’s a decent enough likelihood that his RFA tender will stand.

That basically gives the Cowboys a year to get a long-term deal done with Free.  I invite you all to look up the contracts of left tackles in the NFL, and compare them to right tackles.  If you don’t have time for such things, I urge you to just take me at my word when I say it’s a big, big difference.  Tyron Smith, as the 9th overall pick, is going to get paid handsomely no matter where he plays his rookie season.  But when Jerry Jones and Doug Free’s agent sit down to talk about that next contract sometime between now and free agency in 2012, I’m sure Jones would rather pay Free “right tackle money” than “left tackle money.”  That’s what this seemingly unnecessary OL shuffle could ultimately be all about.


  1. valmont says:

    your premise lacks fundamental logic.

    Even if Dallas plays Free at RT, he already spent a season playing well at LT. Free, his agent, and other teams aren’t going to forget that. If Dallas were take the approach you suggest, I’m sure Free and his agent would just laugh and say ‘Ok, let’s see if another team thinks I’m a LT, thank you very much’. And after his 2010 performance I’m sure he’d find someone who was happy to have him as their LT.

    1. That’s a fair point, and one that hadn’t eluded me. Keep in mind that even “good right tackle money” theoretically would set Free up for life financially. Players that wait to get a deal done until they’re unrestricted free agents take a big risk. If they get injured or play poorly, that’s it – No big payday. Obviously, the flip side of that is that they can hit it big.

      Free is still playing on his rookie contract, and as a 4th round pick, while good money to you and me, it isn’t enough to enable him to retire after his football career is over. If they pay him RIGHT NOW (or you know.. when the CBA blah blah), he’s getting left tackle money. If they flip him to right tackle, they can at least test the waters a little to see if he’ll sign a deal that’s more team-friendly before he ever gets to free agency. Player gets a big signing bonus and is set for life, team gets a reasonable deal done. Win-win. Otherwise, they’re looking at paying both of their offensive tackles a boatload of money, which is something I’m sure they’d prefer to avoid if they can.

      I should also note that I don’t think it’s a good idea, mind you, but it not “lacking fundamental logic,” as you put it.

  2. Number5 says:

    Congrats on the new site Jimmy

  3. tdships says:

    While this may make for a good headline, the reality is substantially different. First, DAL will pay T Smith #9 money whether he plays LT or RT. Second, when was the last time JJ UNDERPAID anyone? His problem is quite the opposite. Although caponomics does play a part, JJ does not let players go he wants. And there is no way he’s going to part company with his best, youngest O Lineman in Free.

    The reality is DAL could have 2 swing tackles as Starters. Likely T Smith plays RT as a Rookie to get familiar with the speed of the game and learning his craft as a Pro. Next season – 2021, is wide open, assuming he acquits himself well.

    1. “While this may make for a good headline, the reality is substantially different. First, DAL will pay T Smith #9 money whether he plays LT or RT.”

      That’s exactly what I said. Was the headline so good that you skipped the body?

  4. ENsDad27 says:

    I never understood the pick in the 1st place. Tyron Smith would seem to be a LT (especially after drafting him ninth overall) in the NFL & probably a better fit on a team that runs a ZBS instead of a team like the Cowboys who are more of a power offense. Smith makes little sense as a RT (& I know he played there in college but RT in the NFL calls for a different type of player & physique) so playing Smith at LT would make the most sense, other than the fact that the Cowboys already have a pretty good LT. I doubt that the reason is money but I agree that Free will kick over to the Right side & Smith will play LT, not to sure if it happens this season or next tho

    1. BigBad Joe says:

      Dont look now, but based on who the cowboys drafted at the OL positions, they are going for a more athlectic OL, and going to be getting away from the maulers

      1. ENsDad27 says:

        You might be right. Arkin & Nagy are both average size for their positions & Smith is definitely not in the Cowboy mold of offensive lineman. That would make it more likely that Free will be moving to RT & Smith will be taking over at the LT spot

  5. Tracer Bullet says:

    I dunno. Jerruh is many things (egomanical, vain, stupid, tacky, loud) but he’s not cheap.

    1. It’s less about cheap and more about salary cap.

  6. Warren says:

    While saving money is a worthwhile pursuit, this just looks really really dumb. If it was that big of a concern to avoid paying two tackles that much, they should have gone a different direction at ninth overall. Plus, once Free is a UFA (pending lockout/tag nonsense) he’ll get a payday from _someone_, and it’ll only be more expensive for the Cowboys to try and extend him at that point. I don’t see him signing a contract with right tackle money if he can wait to be a UFA to cash in. Seems shortsighted, if they actually do this.

    1. I happen to agree, as it could certainly backfire if in this scenario Free decides not to pursue a deal during the season and take his chances in free agency that another team will pay him like a good LT. I’m just saying this is what the Cowboys could be thinking.

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