Commentary

Doug Free could become expensive

He proved to Cowboys he's legit NFL left tackle, so they'll have to pay him like one

Updated: February 9, 2011, 9:58 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

The Cowboys have 13 free agents to deal with whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is finished.

There is just one player the Cowboys need to worry about: Doug Free.

After the 2009 season, Free gave the Cowboys hope he could move to left tackle and replace Flozell Adams.

Here is what Free did in his first season at left tackle: He allowed just five sacks and seven quarterback hits, zero the last eight weeks of the season. He also committed nine penalties for 55 yards, with seven false starts.

Doug Free
Kyle Terada/US PresswireDoug Free proved he can play left tackle in the NFL and earned a raise in the process.

According to Pro Football Focus, which ranks players using statistical analysis, Free was the fourth-best tackle in the NFL in 2010. He ranked behind Andrew Whitworth of Cincinnati, Jake Long of Miami and Kareem McKenzie of the New York Giants.

The CBA will have a tremendous impact on what the Cowboys can do with Free.

If Free becomes an unrestricted free agent, he could get franchised. A franchised player gets a payday of the top five average salaries at his position or 120 percent of that player's previous base salary, whichever is greater.

In 2009, franchised linemen received $10.7 million.

If the new CBA forces Free to become a restricted free agent, then he can receive a tender offer which would be far lower financial figure than if he were franchised.

Last season, wide receiver Miles Austin was given a first- and third-round tender worth about $3 million. If a team had signed Austin away, it would have had to surrender a first- and third-round picks.

The Cowboys could also work out a new deal with Free, but what to offer him is uncertain.

Jimmy Sexton, Free's agent, refused to comment regarding what the Cowboys might do with his client. It's clear the organization values him as evident of all the positive comments coming from Jason Garrett, Hudson Houck and Stephen and Jerry Jones.

Left tackle is a valued position, and once you get a quality player there you don't want to lose him. Adams missed just 10 games in 11 years at left tackle. He was a rock until his body gave out on him in 2009.

This is where Free took over and proved his worth. Now the only question is what to pay him.

Let's get to this week's mailbag.

Q: Can [former Dallas mayor] Laura Miller receive a little blame for the Super Bowl disaster? After all, if the stadium was built where it was originally intended to be, Cotton Bowl, the Super Bowl and all of its festivities would've been confined to one city. Even with the bad ice, travel would've been greatly reduced along with out-of-state complaints. -- Rhett (Euless, Texas)

A: Rhett, that's a valid point. If the Super Bowl were in the Fair Park area, Dallas would have dominated most of the Super Bowl action. I do believe Fort Worth would have still received something from the NFL, whether it be the AFC team staying there -- which the Pittsburgh Steelers did last week -- or NFL Experience. But credit Arlington for stepping up when necessary to get the Cowboys to Arlington. It's all about making deals, and the city of Dallas failed in this area when it came to the Cowboys.

Q: What's the latest with Dez Bryant and his injury? Will he make it through this next season? It seems to be an on-going thing to even when he was at Oklahoma State. -- Mark Alan (Spencer, Iowa)

A: Bryant is off crutches and hopes to start running soon. He was pretty injury-prone this past season and some of it had to do with him not playing in nearly a year. He's such a physical player. You see him trying to run through tackles, and sometimes two or three defenders have to bring him down. It takes a toll on his body. Bryant's conditioning was an issue at the start of rookie minicamp but it seemed to get better as the year progressed. He needed to lose about 15 pounds, which he did. The only thing for him to do is master the mental part of the game. I think Bryant will be fine from a physical standpoint going forward.

Q: How's the quarterback situation going to play out? I don't think [Tony] Romo has ever been a strong leader and [Jon] Kitna is on his last leg. Do you see a new quarterback in the future or at least a new backup? It looks like Arkansas' Ryan Mallet will be available. -- Rich C (Yulee, Fla.)

A: Rich, I'm going to be as gentle as can be: What's wrong with you? There is nothing wrong with the quarterback position. Romo is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. You want to give up on him? Kitna proved he can be a valuable backup, and Jason Garrett said he liked the poise of Stephen McGee toward the end of 2010. I do think the Cowboys should draft a quarterback on the last day of the draft if one is worthy. But Romo, Kitna and McGee will be the quarterbacks in 2011.

Q: What's up with the safety position? [Gerald] Sensabaugh is a good lock for strong safety, but what's going on about the free safety? Do you think they're going to stick with Alan Ball or go for a safety in the draft? What about free agency? Besides the defensive line, that's really my only concern about that defense. -- Leo W. (Buffalo, N.Y.)

A: Not sure if Sensabaugh is going to return. The Cowboys are going to let him test a crowded marketplace. If the Cowboys think they can match or give him something more than what he expects in the free-agent market, then he will return. Ball is tricky. He's a free agent, and depending on what the new CBA will look like, he might be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys might keep him by default and let him compete for a starting free safety job. I suspect the team will draft a safety this year with the goal of giving that rookie significant playing time.

Q: If the Cowboys decide to draft a more explosive OLB like Von Miller or Robert Quinn, do you think Anthony Spencer could be moved inside since he's got the size and he's strong against the run? -- Chris (Holmdel, N.J.)

A: I think you keep Spencer outside if you draft Miller. Miller is projected to be there around 8-12, so why not get him? Garrett wants to create competition, and he gets it with Miller and Spencer battling for an outside linebacker spot. I don't think Spencer is strong enough to be an inside linebacker. He's got the speed and moves to scoot past tackles, but not sure if he can handle guards and centers one-on-one in small spaces.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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