INDIANAPOLIS – On Wednesday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he would not rule out Doug Free’s return in 2013, despite a $10.02 million salary-cap figure and the team’s need to get under the cap before March 12.
In order to be comfortable in moving away from Free, who is set to make a $7 million base salary, the Cowboys have to have a replacement.
Late last season the Cowboys platooned Free with Jermey Parnell, alternating series.
If Free is cut, then Parnell would be the top in-house candidate to play right tackle but they could look early in the draft for a potential starter.
“We feel good about what he did,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s one of those guys from the time we got him as a practice roster player, you coached him hard, he wanted to get better and he really grew before your eyes. He grew in practice. We have some really good rush guys for tackles to go against. You think about D-Ware and Spence and some of the other guys, so I think he grew in those competitive situations. He grew a ton in the preseason but he probably grew his most during this season. We did something with him this season and it’s something that Bill Callahan really emphasized: early on in the season we used him a lot in our three tight end packages and it was something that quite frankly he didn’t do very well right from the start. When you’re one of those guys in those shot yardage or goal line type situations and you’re the end man on the line, the tight end, and you’re in a loud stadium he was late off the ball he missed some assignments but we really tried to be persistent in using him in those situations for when he went into the game at tackle. By the time he went in and played more regular at the tackle position at the midway, end point of the year, he was so much more comfortable playing probably as a result of those snaps that he wasn’t very good at in the beginning but he really became a really good player in those situations. We like what he did. There’s no question about that. We like how Doug Free responded to Jermey playing, so that was a positive as well.”
If Free improved, which was noticeable, how do you evaluate him going forward?
“You factor in all of that stuff,” Garrett said. “Certainly you feel better to how he responded to all of that and you want to have a late season evaluation: this is what he is now but each guy has to continue to grow. We’ll have to make some important decisions for our team based on those guys.