The news of right tackle Doug Free’s retirement opens up some questions on the Cowboys offensive line.
Doug Free was much maligned at times during his ten years in Dallas, but the truth is that he was a vital part of the revitalized offensive line. Free may not have been the most talented player in the unit, but he was the heart and soul of a offensive front that paved the way for some spectacular rushing performances in recent years.
Replacing his presence will not be easy for the Dallas Cowboys, although they do have options.
For starters, the club has said that they have held discussions with La’el Collins about the possibility of his moving from guard to tackle in the event of Free’s retirement or in the case of an injury. Collins is no stranger to the position, having played tackle during his time at LSU. He earned second team All-America honors at the position during his senior season and also was awarded the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the outstanding offensive lineman in the SEC that year.
His natural position in the NFL is as a guard, but Collins is light on his feet and he possesses enough natural quickness to be a successful right tackle in the professional ranks.
The Cowboys second option would be to elevate Chaz Green to the starting position. This is the role that the front office had in mind when they drafted Green in the third round of the 2015 draft. Although his original role was to replace Jeremy Parnell as the swing tackle, the longer intent was to allow Chaz to develop into the role that Free is now vacating.
Like Collins, Green was a successful tackle in the SEC. Since turning professional the former Florida Gator has found it difficult to find his way to the playing surface. A series of issues with both his hip and his back have limited Green’s development.
The long shot in the mix will be Emmett Cleary. In his professional career, Cleary has seen time with six professional teams. Cleary is the least talented of the trio, but he is a technically savvy offensive lineman who can fill in across the line. Given an opportunity to play at the end of last season, Emmett turned in a credible performance securing the backside of the Cowboys passers against the Eagles.
Should the Cowboys decide that their best option will be to move Collins outside, they have some options for left guard. Joe Looney is still on the roster and the Cowboys used him quite a bit in their “jumbo” packages last season. Looney has a lot of NFL experience and is under contract for one more season.
Another player who is not under contract is Jonathan Cooper. The Cowboys took a flier on the first-round pick who has bounced around to a couple of teams now. They signed him for the end of the season and he is now a free agent. No one is really quite sure what the Cowboys thought of Cooper, but if they at all thought he had potential, they could re-sign him and give him a shot at the left guard spot.
Last but not least, there is always the option of acquiring talent to fill the gap. This might be done via the draft or through free agency. There will be guys who can play a credible role hitting the open market all the way through final cutdowns at the end of training camp.
Now is not the time to panic. Doug Free will be tough to replace, but not impossible. The Cowboys will have options from now up to the beginning of the season.
The sky is not falling.