IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their decisions to give Doug Free and Alan Ball the inside track to starting jobs.
They earned it last season.
The Cowboys looked like geniuses at the end of the 2009 season for releasing highly paid “progress stoppers.” Mike Jenkins made the Pro Bowl with Anthony Henry out of the way. Anthony Spencer dominated down the stretch with Greg Ellis gone. (Sorry, can’t give Jerry Jones and Co. full credit for Miles Austin’s emergence after they got rid of Terrell Owens, since it took an injury for Austin to get in the starting lineup.)
The reasoning behind those releases was two-fold: They were cost-cutting moves that made room for emerging young players. The Cowboys had the same line of thinking when they handed pink slips to Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin this spring.
Free and Ball don’t have the first-round pedigree of Jenkins and Spencer. But the Cowboys have had a chance to evaluate Free and Ball as starters, although Free was playing on the other side of the line.
The Cowboys’ conclusion was that there wouldn’t be a dropoff at left tackle and safety. Those positions might even be improved, which is what happened when the Cowboys dumped veterans to give young guys a shot last season.