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Cowboys Cross-Examine: Doug Free Or Jermey Parnell?

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The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2015 season with quite a few quandaries to address. Perhaps the biggest centers around who is going to start on the right side of a dominant offensive line. The seasoned veteran or the improving youth?

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The inside scoop around Valley Ranch suggests that the Cowboys will first answer questions in-house before they look for any solutions outside. One of the more intriguing of those centers around two veterans in the same position.

Dallas has successfully transformed their offensive line into one of the more elite units in the National Football League. With that, comes a potentially large price tag for their services. Both tackles Doug Free and Jermey Parnell are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. The likelihood of both being retained is very slim, so in this piece we will examine who is the right fit for the Cowboys.

Just a few seasons ago these two were alternating plays much like Roger Staubach and Craig Morton in 1972. It was kind of strange, but Doug Free was having a very rough season, therefore Garrett tried to light a spark. Some believed that Free would either be released or have to take a significant pay-cut in order to remain in Dallas. Free did just that by taking a decreased wallet, and reestablishing himself with a very solid 2013 campaign.

Jermey Parnell's story is a little different. Parnell was a converted basketball player that entered Dallas by being signed to the active roster off of the Saints' practice squad. Parnell would participate in six games in 2011 and was resigned on a three-year deal that offseason. In 2012, he would start two games for Tyron Smith, who suffered a high-ankle sprain. Parnell would then work into the aforementioned rotation with hopes to compete for the starting role. That vision never developed though because Parnell was injured in the preseason and fell behind.

This offseason has the picture a little bit more cloudy resulting in quite a puzzle for the Cowboys to solve. On one hand you have the proposed leader of the unit in Doug Free who was oft-injured this past season. On the other, you have a younger option in Parnell, who seemed to play well in his seven starts this season. Any time you have a dilemma such as this, it's best to look at the statistics in order to determine the true victor.

For the sake of arguing, I went back to the old workhorse PFF for some much-needed clarification. This chart takes into account  the games that each played over the season.

Player


Overall


Pass Block


Run Block


Penalty


Sacks


QB Hits


QB Hurries


D. Free

+8.5

+1.2

+5.6

4

3

2

17

J. Parnell

+8.7

+3.2

+4.4

1

0

1

11

The two are quite evenly matched overall. When you look at the real differences you notice that Parnell is graded out as a better pass protector, whilst Free is better in the running game. Free did give up three sacks, yet he started more games than Parnell. The numbers would suggest that overall, Parnell would be the better option due to his age and pass block ability, but as Lee Corso would say "not so fast."

Here is why Doug Free is the better option and it's not that close. For one, Parnell has been given ample opportunity to win the job outright and has never been able to accomplish that. Secondly, the rushing attack suffered significantly without Free in the line-up. Without Free, the Cowboys managed 720 yards rushing, with him they had 1,634 yards.

Doug Free is the "Daddy" of the offensive line as Steve Dennis would say. Though he's currently 31, he'll be a lot less expensive in theory. Jermey Parnell may command more dollars in free agency due to his youth. Free is not going to ask for the farm. At this point, it is more likely that Free would take a team-friendly deal in order to chase a title. The other linemen speak to his leadership and that is very valuable to Jason Garrett. His injuries this season coincided with each other, and in my opinion are not indicative of his future. A foot fracture is what it is, he was going to miss time.

The best plan of action would be for the Cowboys to retain Doug Free and draft his replacement. After all, Free was a fourth-round product. It's not necessary to spend a terribly high pick on the position. Let Jermey Parnell test the market, find a young product in the middle rounds, and coach him up to eventually replace your stalemate.

Of course, free agency always sparks debate. Let's hear your voices in the comments.