What may have been The Dallas Cowboys’ biggest strength last season is slowly becoming a void that needs to be filled, as “America’s Team” has lost their second starting offensive lineman from last season. Shortly after guard Ronald Leary signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency, starting right tackle Doug Free decided to call it a career.
Free, who is 33 years old, has been a durable player for Dallas, as he has started in 107 of a possible 112 games since 2010. He was in the final year of his restructured three-year contract with the Cowboys and was owed a total of $7.5 million.
Rumors of Free’s potential retirement started to swarm at this year’s combine when executive vice president Stephen Jones said La’el Collins could step up and play right tackle “if Doug were to retire or not be around.” However, head coach Jason Garrett initially denied those allegations, saying, “He like all the players, they wanted to get away for a little while then get themselves recharged and come back to work. I don’t anticipate anything other than that.”
Either Garrett had no idea Free was about to retire, or he didn’t want to put Free’s business on air until an official decision had been made; but either way, the Cowboys will have to start searching for Free’s successor.
A 10-year veteran, Free was the longest tenured player on Dallas’ top ranked offensive line, a unit that helped do all the dirty work for running back Ezekiel Elliott to become the NFL’s leader in rushing yards. But lingering injury issues that have taken their toll on Free, who will now no longer be a part of any Cowboys’ Super Bowl run from here on out.
Now as Dallas tries to deal with the drama relating to Tony Romo’s eventual departure, they will have to retool their offensive line that consistently held defenders at bay in 2016. While the Cowboys could move Collins to right tackle or promote Chaz Green or Emmett Clearly to the starting role, it’s fair to wonder how Dallas’ O-Line will fare in 2017 without the services of Free.