After an unsuccessful stint as the Dallas Cowboys left tackle and the fiasco surrounding the high-dollar contract that Jerry Jones signed him to, Doug Free became a sort of running joke among fans of America's Team. Free simply was not playing at the level that he was expected to perform at and there were plenty of Cowboys fans ready to run him out of the Metroplex. A move back to the right side put the veteran offensive lineman back at a position where he was more suited and significant pay-cut reduced Free's impact on the team's bottom line. The positional move, and perhaps the pay-cut, resulted in an improved performance. Doug Free once again became a solid football player for Jason Garrett's team.
With a plethora of young and highly-talented guys surrounding him, Free emerged as the stabilizing presence that is expected of an offensive line's elder statesman. He was the glue that held together a corps of inexperienced linemen as they began to gel into a cohesive unit. Few would dispute that Free was earning his keep on the Dallas line. That all changed once a ankle injury sent Free to the sidelines for the season.
Enter Jermey Parnell. Dallas poached him off of the Saints practice squad back in 2010 and the team invested considerable time in developing the raw offensive lineman into the player that they felt he could be. Parnell had seen only limited action with the Cowboys prior to the 2014 season. With the injuries to Free, the Cowboys swing tackle was given an opportunity to demonstrate the results of the work he had put in under the watchful eyes of Bill Callahan. There was some fall off at times, but for the most part the Cowboys front five did not miss a beat. All told, Parnell started five games during the regular season, including the last three. He also started both playoff games for Dallas. Jeremy Parnell appears ready to play on a weekly basis in the National Football League.
Therein lies the conundrum. Dallas feels that they have two starting-caliber right tackles. Even without the cap hell situation of recent memory, the front office cannot afford to pay both starter money, and even if they could, that money would be better spent elsewhere. Both men are unrestricted free agents and Dallas has a choice to make.
Free is the more talented and more experienced of the two. That is a double-edged sword. First, it could mean that he will be the more expensive piece to keep. He is also over 30, and the recent injuries he has experienced could be a sign of things to come as far as his health is concerned. Parnell still has things to learn, the things that only live gameday snaps will teach. He is closing in on 30 himself, but he does not have the same type of mileage on his body. He also should come at a lower cost.
For the Dallas front office the challenge will be to find the most value for their dollar. If they keep Free, he could command in the 4-4.5 million dollar range, but the will be getting a proven veteran leader, albeit one with some wear and tear that is only going to become worse. In opting for Parnell, Dallas will be giving up significant experience, but getting a man who has learned his role fairly well. He will also come at a significant savings.
What do you say, Cowboys fans? Which way should Dallas go at right tackle?