Four months ago, I wrote on Bleeding Green Nation that the Cowboys may have gaffed by not making it a 100% certainty that Doug Free will remain a Cowboy in 2011. The Cowboys instead opted to place a restricted free agent tender on Free, but with reports today that all 4th, 5th, and 6th year players will likely become eligible for unrestricted free agency, any restricted FA tags would basically void. This is a potential disaster for the Cowboys, as Free, with 4 years of NFL service, would be able to test the market, and the market will undoubtedly be hot for his services.
Bad OL play has become an epidemic in the NFL in recent years, and there are no shortage of teams that will be licking their chops to sign a good young LT like Free. Consider the A-list group of pass rushers Free faced in 2010. Now consider that Free only gave up 5 sacks last season, and Free could be the hottest commodity in the league. Name pretty much any team in the NFL, and you can make a case that Doug Free would make that team better. Call me crazy, but based upon the position he plays as well as age considerations, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Free generates more interest league-wide than the crown jewel of this free agent class, Nnamdi Asomugha.
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The Cowboys are in big, big trouble here. Their OL was awful in 2010, as their poor play contributed to their surprise 6-10 season. RT Marc Colombo was dinged up early and had a wretched season. He may be done in Dallas with the selection of rookie OT Tyron Smith. Ditto that for Leonard Davis, who was benched at one point during 2010. LG Kyle Kosier battled injuries for most of 2010 and also had a down year. C Andre Gurode made the Pro Bowl again, but mainly because center is an extraordinarily weak position across the entire NFC. Hell, Shaun O’Hara of the Giants made the Pro Bowl at center despite missing half the season and playing poorly when he was actually able to go. And oh by the way, Gurode turned 32 in March, and the other 2 Cowboys returning starting offensive linemen will be 33 by the end of the 2011 season, and the Cowboys’ depth is shaky, at best. Losing their best and only young proven offensive lineman (Free just turned 27 in January) would be an absolute disaster.
Somewhere, Doug Free’s agent is smiling ear to ear. Free is going to get bigtime LT money, be it from the Cowboys or elsewhere. Jerry Jones rolled the dice, and if there’s any truth to the reports that 4th year guys are free to shop their services, it’s either going to cost him his left tackle or a boatload of cash and cap space.