Sep 21, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin (70) celebrates on the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Doug Free Situation

Aug 15, 2012; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) and linebacker Victor Butler (57) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Most Cowboys fans have mixed feelings about Doug Free.  In 2010, he was one of the league’s best tackles.  Since then, his productivity has been on a roller coaster.  With the draft rapidly approaching, many think it’s time to find his successor, but is it really?  And if so, how high of a priority should it be?

Some may be surprised to learn that Doug Free actually ranked among the top Right Tackles in all the league last year according to  Statistics show that he was an effective pass and run blocker throughout the season, even excelling at different points.  Importantly, unlike previous years, Free seldom had issues with penalties.  In his second year at the position, #68 showed much better instinct.

Despite an overall good performance, some of Free’s statistics are too daunting to ignore.  34 QB hurries is uncharacteristically high for a player of Free’s overall ranking.  Interestingly, despite giving up 6 sacks, Free is credited as not having given up a single QB hit.  It’s possible that this is owed more to Tony Romo‘s mobility, but some credit is still due for Free who, despite not always being the best player, does battle on every play.

Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackle Zack Martin (70) in action during the second half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Come May, it is possible that Jones and company will look to replace Free who turned 30 in January and is in his final year (though a club option is available for 2015 and 16)  Many fans are hoping for Notre Dame’s Zack Martin to be drafted with the 16th pick.  While Martin is immensely talented, some are questioning whether he has the size to sustain a position on the edge, and feel that he may do better as a Guard in the NFL.  Given that concern and Free’s resurgence, Dallas appears unlikely to draft a tackle with the 16th pick (assuming none of the big three fall)- though a trade down could always be in order.

After taking a pay-cut to remain with the team and turning in an impressive 2013 season, Doug Free deserves the respect of Dallas Cowboys fans.  While searching for a replacement now makes sense, Free’s recent performance shows that it is not a high priority.  The success of first-rounders Tyron Smith and Travis Federick have many fans calling for another early O-line selection, but with such a deep class, there may be a few gems to be had in the later rounds.  Doug Free, for what it’s worth, was a fourth-round pick.

Tags: Dallas Cowboys Doug Free Travis Frederick Zach Martin

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