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Cowboys 2015 Free Agency: Should Dallas Try To Keep Doug Free AND Jermey Parnell?

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There are positive and negative arguments for signing Doug Free and there are positive and negative arguments for signing Jermey Parnell. Maybe the Cowboys can afford both.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Doug Free has been a very good right tackle in the NFL. He has also struggled with his technique from time to time, but he has always had quick feet and he is definitely a leader on a team full of young stars. His quick feet allow him to handle speedy edge rushers most of the time, but  even when he is playing well, he has to be ever mindful of his one big weakness and that is he can be bull-rushed.

Jermey Parnell is three years younger and the Cowboys believe he can improve from the good play he showed in limited action last year when he filled in admirably for an injured Free. Parnell has upside going for him. He has the frame that coaches love and he does not have a glaring weakness. And he has three additional years on Free before he hits that magical age of 32 where tackles seem to noticeably begin their decline.

Our own fearless leader, Dave Halprin, added these nuggets of wisdom on this subject in an interview over at BBV:

On Doug Free:

"Doug Free has had an inconsistent career with Dallas. Early on, injuries held him back, but when he eventually broke into the starting lineup he put in some good years. Then he signed a big contract and his play slipped. The Cowboys eventually had to ask him to take a pay-cut down to $3.5 million for a couple of years or they were going to release him. He bounced back and was having a very good season until injury sidelined him again. He was working well in tandem with guard Zack Martin in the running game, he gets pretty good push and is nimble enough to get to the second level or loop him outside for a sweep. He can be beaten on the pass rush by very quick defensive ends, sometimes he reaches and gets out of position or his kick-step back is too slow. The Cowboys are probably going to make an effort to re-sign him, they like the job he did in the running game and they would like to keep continuity along their offensive line. But with Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and a couple of linebackers high on their list to re-sign, they might have to save the money."

And then on Jermey Parnell:

"Parnell was a reserve until he had to fill in for Free over the last seven games of the season. He held his own in that audition, although a slow down in the running game coincided with his presence. He was very good at protecting Tony Romo in the passing game, but there has been speculation that he wasn't quite the run-blocker as Free. But, he definitely played like a starter in that short audition, enough so that the Cowboys might be considering keeping him over Free because he is younger and has greater upside since he's still got room to grow. We've never seen Parnell over a full season, so there is still doubt about how he would do, but he looks capable."

There also have already been articles by a couple of our FPW's that compare the relative strengths and weakness of both and do a fine job of laying out which one might be the better choice. See this fine article by Michael Sisemore, and this one by Tom Ryle - but in each article the idea of keeping only one was thought to be a given. And I might add that at first glance it would certainly seem to be the case. But.....

While Mackenzy Bernadeau is very capable of filling in for injuries at both guard spots, as well as center, when it comes to the tackle position it bears further scrutiny.

Let's look at two things that need to be emphasized. First, we need to consider what would we be looking at if Tyron Smith were to get injured.  We have already seen that Parnell can handle that spot well enough to get by, and second, the Giants are certainly considering which ever one we don't sign, and it appears that the Redskins with new coordinator Bill Callahan on board will also surely be after the one we don't sign. So, there is the added "cost" of letting one of our two potential starters go to one of our division rivals.

So, what would it cost to keep both? I am going to guess that Free will want a raise from his current $3.5 million a year pay, and that Parnell would also be seeking a raise from his $1.5 million a year. And if we consider that keeping only Parnell or Free would force the Cowboys to use someone like Darrion Weems to help cover an injury, maybe keeping both isn't such a bad idea. Spend a little extra money, maybe a $3-4 million a year more than if you only kept one, and you have insurance for an offensive line that is the engine that makes the Cowboys' 12-4 seasons happen. Imagine if Dallas didn't have Parnell this year to fill-in for Free, what if it had been Darrion Weems? Could that have sunk the Cowboys during the late-season and into the playoffs? Weems, or another cheap swing tackle option, would be untested and could leave the Cowboys' big investment, Tony Romo, exposed. How much savings is worth gambling on the health of Romo?

There are good reasons to keep one over the other on both sides of this dilemma. So why not go ahead and pay the premium, keep both and have the best of both worlds, and security for Romo?