Not that long ago, Doug Free was a punch line. Now, the decision to bring the free-agent right tackle back is no joke.
As in, do the Cowboys believe he has a better future than Jermey Parnell?
Since the arrival of Tyron Smith and his move back to right tackle, Free has been a steady – and at times spectacular – player. But in December he suffered an ankle injury against the Eagles and missed the final three games of the season. In his absence and with Parnell in the lineup, DeMarco Murray and the running game didn’t miss a beat.
In a season that saw Murray lead the NFL in rushing and the Cowboys win 13 games and a playoff game, Free started 11 games at right tackle and Parnell seven.
Hence, the decision.
As expected, the Cowboys over the weekend voided the final two years and $16 million of Free’s contract, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10. Parnell, whose cameo performances has his stock rising at Valley Ranch and around the league, will be also be unrestricted. The Cowboys won’t have salary-cap issues as in years past, but neither can they afford to pay starting money to two right tackles.
It’s not an easy choice.
Free is more accomplished. But Parnell is three years younger, with a bigger upside.
To me Parnell is the keeper. He hasn’t reached his potential, and with his age he can blossom and mesh alongside young linemen Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.
The Cowboys must keep one of them. The other will likely be starting for another NFL team next season.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.