What's the deal with Cowboys' Doug Free?

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
2:00
PM ET
Paralyzed in free agency, unable to get Tony Romo extended, and the hits just keep on coming for Dallas Cowboys fans, who are going to absolutely hate this story from Calvin Watkins about right tackle Doug Free. Calvin reports that, according to a source, Free's future with the Cowboys is "secure for now."
Earlier this offseason, executive vice president Stephen Jones said of Free's possible return: "I wouldn't rule Doug out."

[+] EnlargeDoug Free
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Tackle Doug Free is scheduled to count $10.02 million against the Cowboys' salary cap.
Free's status could again become tenuous if the Cowboys believe there's a tackle worthy of selecting in the first two rounds of the draft. If that's the case, Free could be sent packing, and Jermey Parnell or the draft pick would become the starter at right tackle.

Yeah, see, that's the whole thing. The phrase "secure for now" doesn't really mean much, right? You're either secure or you're not. If the status of your security can change, you're not secure. So I wouldn't worry too much. I still think there's a really good chance they designate Free a June 1 cut and save $7 million against the cap during the summer.

But the fact that they haven't done that yet speaks to their situation, and their lack of ability to find a replacement for Free. They literally can't sign a free-agent tackle (unless they get that Tony Romo deal done and reduce their quarterback's 2013 cap cost in the process), and picking 18th in the draft they can't be certain they'll find their answer at right tackle in the draft. They could find a very good guard at that spot, such as Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper, which might help convince them they can afford to give Parnell a shot. But six weeks away from the draft they can't possibly know.

So they will wait on Free. They cut defensive lineman Marcus Spears and designated him a June 1 release because they felt like they had enough depth on the defensive line to do that now. But obviously, and justifiably, they don't feel the same about their offensive line. And as bad as Free was last year, they don't feel as though they can let him go without knowing who's going to replace him. Add all of that to the Cowboys' famous tendency to hang onto their own players too long and refuse to admit mistakes, and you find yourself unable to say with complete certainty that they will part ways with Free. Even if it seems obvious to all of us on the outside that they need to do so.

This Cowboys' offseason is going to be like this -- slow and frustrating -- and they're going to need to have a very good, 2013-focused draft if they're to make the playoffs this year. Cowboys fans aren't used to Marches like this one, but they don't have much choice right now other than to deal with it.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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