The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Jonathan Bales

Two of the three prospects I have analyzed thus far in 2012 have been potential rush linebackers for Dallas, and I am continuing the defensive trend today with UNC’s Quinton Coples.  A lot of DCTers have talked about their interest in Coples, but the problem is he may be a poor fit in a 3-4 defense.

The players I have assessed prior, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, have no question marks surrounding their position in a 3-4–they would be outside linebackers.  Upshaw is a consensus top 15 pick, but I see a borderline second-round talent when I watch him.  Chances are the true experts are accurate and I am missing something in his game, but I won’t change my report on him because others see an elite player.

I actually much prefer Ingram, whose strengths and potential outweigh his weaknesses.  He has great burst and tremendous athleticism, but he may be a bit of a project for Dallas.  The same might be true for Coples, although to a lesser degree.  At 285 pounds, though, Coples is too heavy at his current weight to play as a rush linebacker, but perhaps too light to play the five-technique.  I like the idea of moving him to end, giving the ‘Boys a pass-rushing presence on their defensive line to complement Jay Ratliff and finally take pressure off of DeMarcus Ware, but it is a gamble.  With first-round picks, you want to minimize risk.

Does Coples’ skill set limit him to playing end in a 4-3? Let’s examine. . .

Scouting Report

Quinton Coples played primarily defensive tackle at UNC, although some of his snaps also came as a defensive end.  He played mainly a seven-technique position when lining up at end, only kicking in a bit in rare situations.  Thus, his transition to 3-4 defensive end would be a relatively new one for him.

A lot of people have compared Coples to Julius Peppers, and I think those comparisons are silly.  Coples is a totally different player who is nowhere near as athletic as Peppers.  He doesn’t have the same pass-rush repertoire by any means.  Actually, he really uses just a bull rush and, on rare occasions, a swim move.

Coples’ bull rush is outstanding, as strength is the name of his game.  Check out the 5:16 mark below where he uses total power to blow the offensive tackle backwards to get the sack and force a fumble.  On the very next play, you can see Coples use his strength to hold off and shed a blocker before making the tackle.

I have some questions about how effective Coples will be as a pass-rusher if he cannot overpower people in the NFL.  He’s strong enough that he might get away with it at times, but you cannot consistently garner pressure using only a bull rush.

So, is Coples suited only for a 4-3? It is difficult to tell.  He has great size and length, and he gets off of the ball really well.  Coples plays with great pad level, and he will be really effective as a run defender in either scheme.  He will be considered to be light for a 3-4 end, but he’s strong enough to hold up in the five-technique.  I’m not sure how much consideration 3-4 teams are giving Coples, but I think he has some versatility.

Projection

Coples is likely going to go in or near the top 10.  If he falls to Dallas, they will have a difficult decision to make.  They certainly could use a dominant defensive end.  Those who argue that 3-4 ends don’t make enough impact to be taken so highly don’t understand the nature of the position.  A great five-technique player can and will take pressure off of Ware, aiding the outside linebacker opposite him to garner some single-teams.  There are players I would rather have at pick No. 14, but I wouldn’t be miserable if Coples was the guy.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Jonathan Bales

I created a stir a couple days ago by arguing that Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw is just a second or even third-round talent.  I really don’t care that no other expert (<— Did I just refer to myself as an expert?) rates him that poorly and that he’s projected to go in the top half of the first round. . .I simply don’t see an elite pass-rusher.  With the No. 14 overall pick and the Cowboys’ current needs, the team better get an elite edge rusher if they look to the outside linebacker spot with their first selection.

Is South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram that player?  I spent the morning watching the majority of his 2010 and 2011 games, and I came away impressed.  Here’s why Ingram is a superior prospect to Upshaw. . .

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Scouting Report

Melvin Ingram is an athlete.  At 276 pounds, he moves like a tight end.  He was on South Carolina’s hands team, which should tell you all you need to know.  The video below doesn’t show his pass rush repertoire much, but you can see his freakish athleticism.

When I posted my scouting report on Upshaw, some readers commented that my qualms with his height were unwarranted.  Lamar Woodley and Elvis Dumervil are shorter players who have thrived at the next level despite smaller frames, and Upshaw may very well be one of those players.  My issue with Upshaw is not simply that he is short and has only 31″ arms, but that he’s short and hasn’t turned in impressive film (in my view).  I actually think shorter, slower, less-physically-impressive prospects who can simply play football often provide the most value, as their shortcomings (HA!) cause them to drop further than they should.  Short arms are a red flag, but if a pass rusher can thrive despite a lack of length, his low draft spot can be a blessing for whoever selects him.

The biggest evidence that I don’t downgrade players simply because of a single measurement is today’s feature.  At 6’2” with 31″ arms, Ingram has pretty much the same frame as Upshaw.  What I saw from Ingram on film, though, is an explosive player with versatility and the ability to dominate in all aspects of the game.

For evidence of Ingram’s explosiveness, check out the 1:07 mark below.  He doesn’t record the sack, but he covers a ton of ground and gets to the quarterback from the defensive tackle position.  At the 1:55 mark, he shows his quickness, setting up the offensive tackle and reaching the passer in a hurry.  Ingram isn’t all about finesse, though, and actually uses a bull rush quite often.  At the 2:25 mark, you can see just how powerful he can be.  From an interior position, he wards off two blockers, splitting them for the sack.

That strength gives Ingram the ability to be a dominant run defender.  He uses his hands extremely well, disengaging from blockers to tackle the ball-carrier.  He maintains leverage in tight spaces, thriving against the run whether he is in the interior or outside.  The last play below shows his strength and ability to work in tight areas.

My biggest issue with Ingram right now is getting off of the ball.  In almost every clip, you can see he is late off of the snap.  Don’t confuse this for a lack of explosiveness, though.  Once Ingram starts moving, he covers a ton of ground in a hurry.  I expect his 10-yard split and short shuttle to be outstanding.  To me, getting off of the snap (in terms of reacting to it) can be taught, but the quickness of the actual first step cannot.  Ingram has the requisite quickness, but he needs to improve his reaction time.  If he can do that, watch out.

Some people might have concerns with Ingram’s size, projecting him as a 4-3 defensive end without 3-4 versatility.  I don’t see that.  Ingram is on the heavy side for a 3-4 backer, but that means the Cowboys wouldn’t lose anything in terms of run defense if he takes over for Anthony Spencer. . .and I can assure you Ingram will help out the defense as a pass-rusher far more than Spencer.

Projection

Ingram figures to go in that “gray area” after Dallas’ No. 14 selection but before their second-round pick.  He could very well rise before draft day, as he figures to post some impressive numbers.  Still, a lot of teams will worry about his height and arm length.  His most likely draft spot is in the late teens or early 20s.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Jonathan Bales

I started off this year’s Potential Draft Picks Series by analyzing Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw, and many of you might have been surprised to learn I see a borderline second-round talent.  The Cowboys have so many holes on defense, though, that they might value Upshaw’s versatility.

If the organization decides to upgrade the offense, the interior line has to be the top priority.  I personally think the Cowboys should move Doug Free to guard and/or sign Carl Nicks.  Those ideas have both drawn sharp criticism and praise, with a lot of you remarking that you would love to see Dallas draft the feature of this article.

Let me be clear that David DeCastro has been the only guard I have studied in detail this offseason.  I spent a few hours watching as many games of his as I could, though, and I feel I have a very strong grasp on his abilities.  Here is why I believe DeCastro is the top guard prospect of the last five years. . .

Scouting Report

I will admit I had no idea DeCastro was so dominant.  I must have watched 500 plays of his, and I cannot find a major weakness.  DeCastro is 6’5”, 310 pounds with a frame that can add size.  Although he doesn’t have elite strength, he still anchors well and uses superb leverage and hand placement to ward off defenders.  Most draftniks claim he is better as a run blocker than in pass protection, but I think he is equally stout in both phases of the game.

As a run blocker, DeCastro can do it all.  He fires off the ball well and can drive defenders back, yet he still has the agility and quickness to get to the second level.  He can pull, blocking well on counters and tosses.  When he is in the open field, his head is on a swivel in an effort to lay someone out (as at the 3:50 and 7:06 marks in the first video below).  Thus, DeCastro is versatile as a run blocker in that he can play with power or finesse.  That’s a rare trait.

In pass protection, DeCastro uses great footwork and hand placement.  He always maintains a solid base and mirrors defenders well.  If he struggles with something at the next level, it will be mammoth tackles (think the nose in a 3-4).  DeCastro plays intelligently, handling stunts and twists with ease and using defenders’ momentum against them.  He always, always plays to the whistle (3:15 mark above).

DeCastro is not an extraordinary athlete, but it really doesn’t matter.  He’s agile enough to succeed in space, and his mechanics are out of this world.  He rarely gets beat, but he finds a way to recover when it happens.  He played right guard at Stanford, but he will be an All-Pro-type player wherever he lines up.

Projection

DeCastro figures to go near the middle of the first round.  I’ve long discussed why offensive guards are extremely undervalued in the draft, as they are vital to the success of an offense (as you saw in Dallas this season), but the premiere players at the position rarely go in the first half of the first round.  Since the “Moneyball” era of valuing players has crept into the NFL, guards have consistently offered the most bang for the buck.  If Dallas feels Free will regain form with a switch back to right tackle, DeCastro should be their top target.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

Jonathan Bales

The 2012 draft season is here!  After the Pats dismantle the G-Men in a couple weeks, we can put the forgettable 2011 season behind us and concentrate on how Dallas will refuel for 2012.  My Potential Draft Picks Series is back, and I’m kicking it off with a player in whom we know the Cowboys have some interest.  Dallas already met with Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw at the Senior Bowl, and he has versatility to play a few positions at which the ‘Boys are weak.  Here are my thoughts on Upshaw and his potential fit in Dallas. . .

Scouting Report

I’ll just start by saying it: I think Upshaw is very overrated.  His biggest strength, versatility, is negated by the fact that he doesn’t play any single position that well.  At 6’2″, 271 pounds, he’s too large to play as an inside backer.  In today’s pass-happy NFL, I would send Barry Church out there at inside linebacker before Upshaw.

Upshaw’s height, however, is a major concern as an edge rusher.  With an arm length just a hair over 31 inches, Upshaw will have major problems fighting off larger offensive tackles.  I see some issues already in college, as Upshaw has trouble getting off of blocks.  This leads to very poor run defense when offenses run right at him.

Upshaw is excellent in pursuit, however, frequently chasing down backside runs and bubble screens.  He’s a high-motor player who has really, really good play recognition.  I watched five games of his and didn’t see him misread a single play.  He stays in great position at all times, maintaining leverage to make plays.  He sets the edge nicely, which is important for a 3-4 outside backer.

Still, Upshaw’s weaknesses are large and abundant enough that I cannot figure out how he’s a “surefire” first-round pick.  A short, heavy linebacker who gets blown off the ball at times and possesses a good but not great pass rush repertoire isn’t what I would be seeking in the first round.  Yes, he has versatility to play a few positions, but a player with second or even third-round talent at a few positions doesn’t equate to a first-round draft pick.

Projection

Upshaw is going to be a first-round selection, and he figures to go around Dallas’ No. 14 pick.  The Cowboys have massive holes in the secondary, but a lot of that can be fixed with a superior pass rush.  If Rob Ryan & Co. are thinking along those lines, Upshaw will probably be on their radar.  I agree the team could benefit from an upgrade over Anthony Spencer, but I don’t think Upshaw is the answer.  In my view, he’s Spencer with worse run-stopping ability.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo’s Off-Season Activities

Thanks to my pal at Terez Owens for the photos.

 

By Jonathan Bales

Should the Cowboys Make a Run at G Carl Nicks?

Jonathan Bales

In the past week or so, I have written extensively on the Cowboys’ offensive line.  In my last post (a look at some interesting offensive statistics from 2011), I hit you with these numbers:

  • Montrae Holland checked in at 20th among all guards in terms of pass protection efficiency, allowing some sort of pressure on 2.5% of pass plays.  This confirms my thought that Holland was very underrated this year. Kyle Kosier was 33rd at 3.2%.  He was just a league-average guard in 2011.
  • Phil Costa was 29th in the NFL among centers with 2.7% pass protection efficiency.  He really shouldn’t start in 2012, although he probably will.

It is pretty clear the interior line is in disarray in Dallas, and something needs to be done to fix it.  I suggested moving Doug Free to right guard and drafting a right tackle in the first round (with Tyron Smith obviously kicking to the left side).  There are some pros and cons to that plan, but I like it because it instantly upgrades two spots.

Others have suggested the Cowboys might make a run at impending free agent guard Carl Nicks, though.  Although Jerry Jones has refrained from signing big-money free agents since Jason Garrett has taken over as head coach, this is one I actually believe the ‘Boys should jump all over.  Here’s why.

Nicks will command a hefty contract, but guards are continually underpaid in the NFL.  He won’t garner nearly as much money as an elite left tackle, but his impact (for Dallas, especially) isn’t that much less than his tackle counterpart.  We saw how much a weak interior line can affect an offense in 2011.  Don’t let it happen again in 2012.

Nicks was the No. 2 ranked guard by Pro Football Focus, yielding only eight pressures all season.  He had the second-highest pass blocking efficiency in the NFL, allowing a sack, hit or pressure on just 1.4% of pass plays.  Nicks is a dominant run blocker as well.  Saints running backs averaged a ridiculous 5.96 yards-per-carry when Nicks was at the point-of-attack this season.  Compare those numbers with the Cowboys’ interior linemen (above).  Dallas backs averaged less than four yards per carry when running behind Holland in 2011, and he’s a player whose run blocking I praised as solid.

Personally, I don’t think the acquisition of Nicks means the team should automatically forget about switching Free’s position.  A tackle-to-guard transition might not seem as appealing with Nicks in town, but an offensive line of Smith, Nicks, Kosier (who can play center), Free, and a rookie right tackle looks pretty damn good to me.  Throw in Holland and Phil Costa as backups, and you’re all set.

Either way, Nicks is a player who the Cowboys should seriously consider.  He will demand a pretty penny, but guards are repeatedly undervalued.  He’s a player on whom to break the bank this offseason.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Recap: Interesting Offensive Stats

Jonathan Bales

I am going to begin my 2012 Draft coverage early this year, and you can expect it to be superb. . .as per usual.  Between those articles you can also expect to find stat analysis of the Cowboys 2011 season.  Below, I have pasted some interesting numbers from both Pro Football Focus and my own Excel spreadsheets.  Similar defensive statistics to come.

Tony Romo

  • Romo finished the season fourth in the NFL in passer rating at 102.5, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.  That includes a 104.4 rating in the fourth quarter. . .not bad for a “choke artist.”
  • Taking away drops, spikes and throw aways, Romo’s completion percentage was 73.5%.
  • On deep passes of 20+ yards, Romo completed 54.8% of his attempts.  That was second in the league to Aaron Rodgers, but only 11.9% of Romo’s passes traveled that long–good for only 13th in the league.  He threw 13 touchdowns and only two picks on deep throws.  I’ve been saying for years the Cowboys would benefit immensely from more deep passes.
  • Romo was under pressure on 30.7% of dropbacks, which was 13th highest in league, but completed 56.7% of his passes in these situations.  That was second-best in the NFL to only Drew Brees.

Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson

  • Cowboys quarterbacks had a 110.8 passer rating when throwing to Dez Bryant, which was the 16th-highest of any receiver in the NFL.  Romo threw three of his interceptions when targeting Bryant.
  • I have seen some criticisms of Miles Austin lately, even from “expert” Dallas-area writers.  Don’t listen to it.  Austin’s only problem has been staying healthy, as Romo posted a 117.8 rating when throwing to Austin, including zero interceptions.  That rating is good for 11th among all receivers.  Austin is an elite wide receiver who will have a monster 2012 season if he stays on the field.
  • Puzzling to me are Austin’s drops.  After a 2010 season in which he struggled with dropping passes, Austin let four more get through his hands this season.  That isn’t an enormous amount, but it was 8.5% of catchable passes and good for just 37th in the NFL.  I think this is a small sample size at work, though, as just one less drop would shoot Austin up to 23rd.
  • Meanwhile, Bryant tallied only one drop all season–second-best in the NFL of any receiver who played 25% of his team’s snaps.  Only Golden Tate caught every pass possible.
  • Laurent Robinson caught 58.8% of deep passes (20+ yards) thrown his way, good for third in NFL.  Austin was 10th at 50.0%, and Bryant 29th at 36.8%.  These numbers are misleading, as Robinson is very rarely the first read on plays.  If he is thrown to, chances are he’s fairly open.  Bryant gets balls in double-coverage, and so we’d expect his deep catch rate to be lower.  Larry Fitzgerald, for example, was just 24th in the NFL at 41.2%.
  • Robinson tallied 2.18 yards per route–the top number on the Cowboys.

DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones

  • DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones were both solid at avoiding defenders in 2011, tallying 3.01 and 2.98 yards-after-contact/attempt.  Those rates were 10th and 11th in the league.
  • Murray had 36.8% of his yardage come on runs of 15+ yards, which was the 12th-highest rate in the NFL.  Jones was 31st at 26.4%.  Again, this stat can be misleading.  While you always want big plays, a really high “big run rate” can be an indicator that a running back will regress to the mean the following season, rushing for fewer big plays and seeing a decrease in both total yards and yards per attempt.  Murray and Jones are both breakaway players, and I’d expect both of them to be around 35% in any given season.  As an example of how much these numbers can fluctuate, consider that Jones saw 44.0% of his yards come on big plays in 2009, compared to just 15.3% last season.
  • Murray and Jones were 24th and 26th, respectively, in catch rate at 89.7% and 89.2%
  • Murray and Jones both need to improve in pass protection.  Jones allowed a pressure, hit or sack on 6.3% of snaps he was in pass pro.  This was just the 41st-best mark in the NFL.  Murray’s 9.7% number came in at 62nd in the league.

Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett

  • Jason Witten dropped 3.61% of balls thrown his way (three total), good for 10th in the league.
  • 13.5% of Witten’s snaps came in the slot.  That was just the 17th-highest percentage for tight ends, and the rate was well behind the top 10 (all of whom played 25+% snaps in slot).
  • Witten was 12th in yards per route at 1.69.
  • Witten blocked on only 9.4% of pass plays, well below his rate in past seasons.  He was 18th in the NFL with 3.9% of snaps resulting in a pressure, hit or sack.  Martellus Bennett was 17th, with 3.8% of his snaps resulting in some sort of pressure.  It confirms the notion that Witten and Bennett are similar in pass protection (although Bennett is far superior as a run blocker).  Bennett blocked on 20.1% of pass plays.

Offensive Line

  • The entire offensive line was 14th overall in pass blocking efficiency, allowing a pressure, hit or sack on 18.5% of pass plays.
  • Tyron Smith was the league’s 14th most efficient tackle in terms of pass protection, allowing a pressure, hit or sack on just 4.0% of pass plays.  Free was 48th with 6.3%.  He also allowed 10 sacks, which was sixth-worst in the NFL.
  • Montrae Holland checked in at 20th among all guards in terms of pass protection efficiency, allowing some sort of pressure on 2.5% of pass plays.  This confirms my thought that Holland was very underrated this year. Kyle Kosier was 33rd at 3.2%.  He was just a league-average guard in 2011.
  • Phil Costa was 29th in the NFL among centers with 2.7% pass protection efficiency.  He really shouldn’t start in 2012, although he probably will.
  • Bill Nagy allowed pressure on 4.1% of pass plays, good for 41st in the league.

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By Jonathan Bales

Analyzing the Top Tier Offensive Tackles in 2012 NFL Draft

Justin Shoemaker

Editor’s Note: A few days ago, we had an article published in the Dallas Observer which argued why Doug Free should be moved to guard.  In addition to his contract being a sunk cost and rookie right tackle Tyron Smith being ready to make the switch to the left side, there will also (likely) be a top tier offensive tackle available for Dallas with the 14th overall selection.  While the team needs all the help it can get on defense, selecting an OT in the first round would instantly upgrade two positions.  DCT contributor Justin Shoemaker took some time to analyze the top three offensive tackle prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Matt Kalil (USC)

- sole reason Tyron Smith played right tackle for USC

-incredible footwork and very nimble for a  6’7” guy. . .has the size to dominate in the power running game but the quickness to get out on counters, tosses and screens

- very comparable to Joe Thomas and Jake Long. . .has tools to be All-Pro

- unless Dallas moves up, he will be out of reach (likely No. 2 overall)

- Note from Jonathan: When I began studying Tyron Smith last year, I just assumed he was a left tackle.  After a couple plays I realized the player I was reviewing was white, so I had a pretty good idea I wasn’t watching Smith.  I kept watching, though, because that player (Kalil) was absolutely dominant.  I can say I wholeheartedly believe Kalil is the top offensive tackle prospect I have seen. . .ever.  He’s superior to Thomas and Long, in my opinions, and he will be an All-Pro for a decade.

Jonathan Martin (Stanford)

- has protected Andrew Luck, but may have looked better than reality due to Luck’s quick release (in much the same way Peyton Manning has made his average line look elite)

- surprisingly better in run blocking than pass protection

- versatile enough to play RT or LT; can set the edge, but still has agility to get to second level

- can play aggressively and with an attitude at times, but then becomes defensive and gives up too much ground to the pass rusher.

- seems to struggle when matched up on nine-technique players or 3-4 outside linebackers; thrives against “power” seven or five-technique rushers

- still has plenty of room to improve technique; would be instant upgrade over Free, even at right tackle

Riley Reiff (Iowa)

-typical Big 10 lineman, which means everyone loves the run blocking ability. . .will have more knocks on his pass protection

-can get a little stiff and awkward in both run blocking and pass protection; not a natural athlete like Kalil or Martin

-great awareness of the pocket and pushing the defender beyond it; will let defenders rush themselves out of play

-could be beast in various run blocking schemes, but may not fit as well for the Cowboys if they plan to incorporate more “finesse” runs with Murray and Jones

- no quit attitude until the whistle blows, play contagious to teammates (he’s a Marc Colombo with skill)

-very much like fellow Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga,

- probably not enough value at No. 14

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants, Week 17: Where Should Doug Free Play?

Jonathan Bales

I recently published another piece at the Dallas Observer.  Head over there to check it out.  It details four points from Sunday night’s loss, explaining how they will affect Dallas in 2012.  Among them is the notion of moving left tackle Doug Free to guard.

Many readers here have frequently suggested position switches for players over the years, and usually I disagree.  It is much more difficult to change positions than people realize.  When it comes to Free, however, I think a move to guard might be a good idea.  Free has the skill set to thrive inside, particularly on plays on which he can get to the second level.

The largest qualm most people (including those within the organization, perhaps) will have with moving Free to guard is the $32 million he received in August.  Guards aren’t typically paid that kind of money, especially when they are switching positions.  The problem with that reasoning is that Free’s contract is a sunk cost.  In economic terms, that means it should have no bearing on future decisions.  The Cowboys will pay Free that money regardless of his position, so why not put the best lineup on the field?

Moving Free would of course be contingent on finding a quality right tackle, likely in the draft (assuming current right tackle Tyron Smith moves to the left side).  There will be plenty of options available for Dallas with the 14th overall pick, and an offensive line manned by Smith at left tackle and Free/a first-rounder on the right side looks a whole lot better than the current version.

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