Right tackle Doug Free has informed the Cowboys he plans to retire, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Chatter had arisen in recent weeks regarding Free’s status, and although multiple reports denied Free would hang up his cleats, the veteran lineman ultimately decided to call it a career.
For Dallas, the loss of Free is a blow to its league-best offensive line, a group that had already seen the defection of top backup Ronald Leary earlier this week. While Free was probably the link weak link along the Cowboys’ front five, he was still a starting-caliber player (No. 40 offensive tackle in 2016 per Pro Football Focus), and the club will now have to assess its options as it seeks to replace him.
Internally, the Cowboys’ top option is Chaz Green, a 2015 third-round pick who played 151 snaps last season. If Dallas isn’t ready to hand over right tackle to Green, it could venture into the free agent market, where options such as Austin Pasztor, Sebastian Vollmer, and Andre Smith still reside. Adding a tackle through the 2017 draft is another possibility, with Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, Alabama’s Cam Robinson, and Utah’s Garett Bolles in the mix as first-round picks.
Alternatively, the Cowboys could consider moving incumbent left guard La’el Collins to right tackle and bringing in another guard. Collins played left tackle in college so he could probably handle the right side, and his versatility will likely play a role in Dallas’ decision. The Cowboys knew Free was retiring before the beginning of free agency, tweets Archer, so the decision not push harder for a Leary return was unrelated.
Originally a left tackle, Free shifted to the right side after Dallas drafted Tyron Smith in 2011. The Northern Illinois alum had undergone foot surgery in each of the past two offseasons. The Cowboys will pick up $5MM in cap space thanks to Free’s retirement, and while they could conceivably recoup $2.5MM in signing bonus money, the club probably won’t ask Free to give that total back.
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