With or Without You: Doug Free and The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line.


The misfortunes of this unit have been well documented by almost every analyst in the country including the hometown guys on DallasCowboys.com. Why do we all keep beating a dead horse? Well maybe it’s because the underachievement by this “oh-so-important” piece in this offense have held this team back in recent memory. I have also lamented this unit’s poor performance all offseason long, with many different ways in which this line could become better; well I may have not looked at the big picture and deciphered a major problem this coaching staff pointed out to me: continuity.

Let me be clear, this is not an excuse for the failures; rather it’s a variable in this situation. If you look at the way last year began you can easily say this line had many flaws and holes. The fact that David Arkin and Ronald Leary were taking the majority of the OTA and Camp snaps had clearly placed the Cowboys at a disadvantage early on. Kowalski, Costa, Bernadeau, Livings all were hurt at given times before they even took the field. That’s troublesome, and left no room for synchronizing this unit.

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Jeremy Parnell (78) watches the score board during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Does that explain the performance by Doug Free? Absolutely not, Free gave up 7 sacks last season; combine that with a 6% pressure rate from his side. Running backs also only eked out a measly 1.9 yards-per-carry on the right side with Free in the line-up. How about the backup Mr. Jeremy Parnell? Well although he wasn’t at the point of attack but a fraction of Free’s exposure, he still managed to have only a 4% pressure rate and gave Running Backs a 5.08 YPC, and was at-fault for 5 sacks. The sack statistic is not as nearly atrocious for these Tackles as it was for these Guards but nonetheless the tackles combined gave up 18 of the 36 sacks taken by Tony Romo.

So what does one do? Promote the former basketball player who showed flashes of brilliance at times? Go search the dwindling Free Agent market for a Tackle that will take less than the $7 million due to their own troubled Veteran? How about hope and pray Doug Free decides to take the pay-cut and have some competition for the open spot? Well obviously the powers-at-be would rather take the latter. Although I have written an article regarding Eric Winston, it seems that I may have been jumping the gun. Is he better than Free? In the running game I would say he is; but in pass protection…..Can I call you back?

It seems as everyone believes that Free isn’t going to take a reduced salary, and therefore will be released, however I’m not so sure folks. Doug Free doesn’t really have much leverage in my humble opinion. He can try and draw this out and keep the Cowboys from going after any available replacements, but maybe that just makes the Executives angry and they designate him a June 1st casualty anyhow. One thing is for certain, regardless of what happens Jeremy Parnell is excited to compete for this starting Right Tackle spot.

Let’s move this discussion to the Guard/Center area of this offensive line. The only acquisition on the interior of the line was the 1stRound pick of Travis Frederick. Does he play Guard? Yes. Does he play Center? Yes. Well where is he going to be? If you ask this guy, I believe he starts at Center and wins that battle quickly into Training Camp. What about Costa? He played well before his back injury last year. That is true, but can he do it consistently for an entire season?

"“Down…set….snap the ball over Tony’s head, Tony scoops up the loose ball, scrambles left, nobody’s open down-field  ball thrown to the flat 8 yards out, caught by Jason Witten for an 11 yard gain, 1st Down Dallas Cowboys! Ok, Tony let’s regroup and repeat that 3 more times in this game. No thanks Coach!”"

I would rather place the rookie there who has a chip on his shoulder, may not have the best athleticism, but he doesn’t get beat often.The real intrigue will be the competition for the Guard spots; I’m not as certain as Broaddus and Cahill are that Livings and Bernadeau are going to walk in here and start. There are still a few guys like Costa, Kowalski and one Ronald Leary whom are ready to compete. After all Leary was given a decent chunk of change last year and there have been some whispers around Valley Ranch that he has got his sights set and is ready to perform. Let’s hope that is the truth, and maybe Leary can become the Cowboys’ Latest Gem from the UDFA market that makes good on his potential.

Decisions, decisions, decisions bring us all the way back to the “Free the Free” campaign. As a fan, you want to know what happened. How did Doug Free go from playing well enough to earn the left tackle spot, to switching back to his natural position and playing so poorly that the fans have given up on him? Maybe the Coaches believe he can return to his former self. Maybe Doug Free wants the chance to prove us wrong. Then again maybe he wants to be cut take his money and ride off into the sunset. What if Jeremy Parnell is actually ready for this? What if he takes this as the perfect opportunity to reach up and grab his dreams and make them a reality? So many what ifs, maybe this, maybe that, not a lot of concrete answers are on the table at the moment. Something has got to give, because switching tackles every year is not a plan for success. Do these Cowboys have a plan; or are they comfortable with Parnell starting? I’m not willing the put my eggs in that basket yet, are you?