An orange practice cone. A doorway without a door. A medium-sized shrub.
There are plays where any one of these items could give Dallas Cowboys OT Doug Free a serious run for his money when it comes to protecting his teammate, franchise quarterback Tony Romo.
But that's just on some plays. There are lots of plays where almost none of those items would give Free a run for his money. And many others where they wouldn't even be in the conversation.
Doug Free sucks. At least, that's the prevailing opinion of DFW sports talk hosts and callers this week. But could Free be suffering unduly because of replay bias? Hey, it could be possible.
Like many players, Doug Free has had some ups and downs in his six year NFL career. His biggest up had to be the day he signed his $32 million contract extension, which in hindsight is perhaps one of the most unfathomable moves in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise. But we live in the Jerry Jones era, when the unfathomable is the everyday.
You could say Free's contract is Chan Ho Park-bad. And around the DFW metroplex, it doesn't get much worse than Chan Ho Park-bad.
Except it does. You see, Park sucking only tended to endanger opposing batters rather than the most important player on his own team.
At any rate, Free got tens of millions of dollars to be an integral cog in what should be Romo's elite force of personal protectors against gangs of real life monsters.
In truth, the only thing Free seems to be elite at, and his consistency in this area can't be overstated, is at being the first on the scene to try and coax a freshly decked Tony Romo back onto his feet so they can get back to the temporary safety of the huddle in time to rinse and repeat the whole deal.
But let's be fair to Free. If instant replay has greatly benefited the skill players of the NFL over the years by burning flickery images of the likes of Lynn Swann at his Swanniest into our sports brains, it has probably done the opposite for the way we remember many offensive linemen.
Rather than being used to hype O-linemen, replays more often tends to show them shape-shifting into human levee breaches in one manner or another just before a quarterback gets his bones and/or head crushed while fans "ooh" and "ah" across America.
We are rarely shown a closeup or replay of Free making a key block on a short yardage play. And it would be pretty pessimistic to assume that's because it doesn't ever happen. And I refuse to bow to pessimism.
In other words, it's easy to point at a player that isn't performing in a replay and say he isn't performing. But just think! On the plays for which they don't show replays, you just never know what that Doug Free is up to. There's a chance that Free could be up to something pretty good! Who knows?
And therein lies the hope. Doug Free's play may be tough to watch, but you never know how Doug Free is playing when you aren't looking. So maybe it's best not to look!
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