In this series, we examine how each player that wears the star on his helmet arrived at his current destination.When they line up on Sundays in the fall, "will player X outperform player Y" always seems to be at center of the discussion and rightfully so. However, there is more to a player than what you see on Sunday; his journey could have taken many different paths.
Did he seem to come out of nowhere to land on the television screen? Did the player arrive with fanfare and a high grade of pedigree? Was he an outcast from another team or did Dallas break the bank to attain him?
I'll highlight one player from the group to start the post, and then cover all other players at the position(s). The series kicked off here, with Roy Williams and the wide receivers. We then moved on to the Andre Gurode and the interior offensive linemen here, and now we'll take a look at the offensive tackles.
Name: Doug Free
Position: Offensive Tackle
College: Northern Illinios
Weight: 315 lbs.
A native of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Doug Free was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2007 amateur draft, 122nd overall. He was Dallas' second pick of that round, after they had selected Isaiah Stanback with the 103rd overall selection. He was also Dallas' second tackle taken in the draft, after Boston College's James Marten was selected 67th overall in the third round. Marten is now considered, at best, a journeyman after a 2009 failed move to guard in Chicago got him released and he signed with Miami, although he didn't suit up. Free was the 10th tackle taken in that draft, following the likes of Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Tony Ugoh and the Packers' Allen Barbre.
Free spent the majority of his rookie season inactive, after suffering a preseason knee injury that kept him out of the rotation. He finally suited up late in the season against the Redskins, but returned to his inactive status for the playoff game against the Giants. Free then saw his sophomore season wiped out due to a back injury. Being drafted together with Marten, fans initially saw Doug Free as another offensive line draft bust. Oh, how we were wrong.
For a trip down memory lane, check out our own Aaron Novinger's piece that contemplated whether or not Free would be our eventual left tackle as we headed into the 2009 season. Free would be the swing tackle that 2009 year, playing all 16 regular season games. He was called in to start when right tackle Marc Colombo went down with torn ligaments in his right ankle. Free started the final seven games of that season doing an admirable job on the right side, grading out above Colombo for the season by most accounts.
However, due to a new injury to left tackle Flozell Adams, Colombo was rushed back into the line up and Free moved over the the left side for the Minnesota playoff game. That game was a debacle for the offensive line in general, but Free acquitted himself very nicely as feared rusher Jared Allen did not notch a sack when lined up on Free (he did have one in the game). Ray Edwards meanwhile terrorized the not-at-full-strength Colombo and the rest is putrid history. Free gave us all hope, and became BTB's poster boy for potential as we spent an offseason musing "I think we'll be ok with Free at left tackle". One of the main reasons? This run by Felix Jones where he had to do everything he could to catch up with Free!
Jerry Jones wasn't as sure, as he traded former first round pick Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis in the 2010 off-season for Alex Barron. Ha! Can you imagine now thinking that Barron would be competition for Free? Our confidence was rewarded, as Free has turned out to be an elite run blocking tackle and an above-servicable pass protecting one.
Free's ability to play both sides of the line shouldn't come as a surprise. In high school, he played both offensive and defensive tackle, as well as tight end. He went from a potential bust, to being the only member of the offensive line that all fans want to see in a Cowboys uniform next season. People waffle on most of the other members, but Doug Free is now a mainstay. The question of whether or not he is suited to stay on the left side is still debated, but seeing how he has answered all the other questions about him, I wouldn't bet against it. Let's hope Jerry Jones doesn't bet against it either, as Free is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Let's take a look at the other tackles on the Cowboys roster, and the path they took to Dallas.
|Player Name||Pos.||DOB||College||Path To The Cowboys|
|Alex Barron||OT||9.28.82||Florida State||Originally a first round pick of the St Louis Rams from Florida State in 2005, traded Bobby Carpenter to get him, first rounder in 2006 to acquire before 2010 season|
|Marc Colombo||OT||10.8.78||Boston College||Originally selected in the first round of the 2002 draft by the Chicago Bears. After being waived by the Bears early in the 2005 season, Colombo sat out of football until that November when he was signed by Bill Parcells. Colombo played sparingly that season, then won the starting right tackle position from second-year pro Rob Petiti in 2006 training camp. Signed through the 2012 season under a $22 million contract.|
|Jermey Parnell||OT||7.20.86||Ole Miss||Signed off of New Orleans practice squad in October 2010, after he had been waived by the Miami Dolphins. Parnell was an undrafted free agent signing of New Orleans after the 2009 draft.|
|Sam Young||OT||6.24.87||Notre Dame||Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Cowboys out of Notre Dame. Surpassed Robert Brewster and Alex Barron on the depth chart to be the Cowboys backup tackle. Signed through the 2013 season.|