When the Dallas Cowboys resigned offensive tackle Doug Free to a four-year, $32 million contract extension in the summer of 2011, the move was widely viewed as one that would sure up the team’s line for the foreseeable future, particularly the blindside of quarterback Tony Romo. With the signing, the Cowboys felt that they had secured their left tackle of the future, a position that was in need of stability following the stellar eight seasons that Flozell Adams provided them from 1999-2008.
But fast forward to early 2013, and there were rumblings about whether Free would be back at all for a seventh season in Cowboy blue and white, and for good reason. Since signing that large contract, the 2007 fourth-round pick has allowed 16.5 sacks while being called for 23 penalties, and lost his left tackle spot in 2012 to second-year player Tyron Smith, who the team viewed correctly as the better fit to protect Romo. But rather than cut Free loose, owner Jerry Jones decided to offer Free a pay cut, chopping his due $7 million salary in half to $3.5 million this season, and $3.5 million in 2014. Free ultimately accepted, and will likely compete with Parnell again for the starting job at right tackle.
It isn’t hard to determine then, that Free faces a ton of pressure in 2013, really the most of any lineman on the Cowboys roster.
When the team agreed with Free on the new contract in July of 2011, they didn’t just pay him. They paid him. Pro Bowl-type money, for a guy that had enjoyed really one good season in four years in the NFL. But it’s safe to say that the team hardly envisioned the drop off that would occur with their high-priced tackle, which consisted of two years of, at best, mediocre play. Free time and time again could be seen with too high of a pad level, getting driven into the backfield by opposing rushers, forcing Romo to hurry out of the pocket. Going up against the league’s best pass rushers, Free was exposed, displaying nothing that warranted a $32-million deal.
Maybe it was the pressure of the deal in the first place that had Free playing so poorly, or maybe it’s the fact that the team may have overreacted by giving him that money after just one good season, and that he’s not that great to begin with.
But those are questions that we won’t know, things that are hearsay.
What we do know, however, is that the Cowboys paid him like a Pro Bowler and he didn’t perform up to those standards. We also know that the team could have gone out and signed either Eric Winston or Tyson Clabo this offseason to replace Free, two tackles that would have been considerable upgrades.
Perhaps Free gets back to his pre-contract form in 2013, maybe playing for a lesser salary, and going into a training camp position battle with something to prove will help him get back to that form.
We can only wonder about that, but one thing that is not to be left to the wondering mind?
Free faces a ton of pressure this upcoming season.