Taking care of Doug Free is important

Whenever the lockout ends, free agency looms large for the Cowboys.

And no free agent is more important for the Cowboys than left tackle Doug Free, the highest-graded offensive linemen on the team in 2010.

With labor uncertainty, it hasn't been determined whether Free will be unrestricted or restricted in free agency. As of now, the talented tackle was given a first-and-third round tender worth $3.5 million. If the new CBA allows Free to become an unrestricted free agent, he will have other options.

Finding a quality left tackle, no matter his age, is important for a team. When the Cowboys elected to release Flozell Adams after the 2009 season, it showed they had confidence in Free. When the team traded for Alex Barron, sending Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis, it created some competition at the tackle spot. But Barron wasn't up to standards and didn't make a challenge for Free's left tackle tackle spot during training camp last year. Barron's fate was decided by three holding calls in the 2010 season opener at Washington. The last holding call negated what would have been a game-winning touchdown.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones is determined to keep Free in the fold and said he's the top priority for the club in free agency.

The team could get a safety in free agency or maybe a guard or cornerback, but keeping Tony Romo's blind side protected is important.

The Cowboys drafted Tyron Smith from USC with the ninth pick of the draft. Line coach Hudson Houck said Smith could move Smith to Free's spot just to see how he performs.

Smith has the skill set to eventually play left tackle. Should the team lose Free in free agency, Smith is the logical choice to play the position.

If the Cowboys keep Free, which it appears they will, making sure he stays at left tackle long term is a must.