There is certainly a ton of mystery surrounding the Cowboys’ offensive tackle position.
Current starting left tackle Doug Free has very little experience at the position, having backed up Marc Colombo at right tackle last season. He did an admirable job filling in and his skill set is probably better suited for left tackle anyway, but the question mark remains.
Colombo was solid (but not spectacular) at right tackle last year before breaking his leg mid-season. He turns 32 this year, so Dallas certainly needs to search for his future replacement.
Perhaps they have already performed that task, having drafted Robert Brewster out of Ball State last season and Sam Young out of Notre Dame this year.
Newly-acquired tackle Alex Barron has a ton of talent but has yet to properly utilize it on the football field. He commits a ton of penalties (although I showed why false starts aren’t as costly as you might think), but he could become a very valuable asset to the Cowboys.
Thus, despite the addition and rearrangement of a lot of players at offensive tackle, the future of the position for the Cowboys is unknown.
Now, Pro Football Talk is reporting the Cowboys tried to attain former Saints (and now Redskins) tackle Jammal Brown. The development came as a bit of a shock to me, particularly on the heels of the Barron acquisition.
PFT Lists Three Possible Reasons for the Cowboys’ Interest
1. The Cowboys were not overly pleased with Doug Free during spring workouts. Free is entering his first full season as a starter. Though he flashed promise in spot starts last season, Free remains something of an unknown.
2. Jerry Jones’ team is concerned with 31-year-old right tackle Marc Colombo’s possibly imminent decline. Colombo broke his right fibula last November. Upon return in the playoffs, Colombo was embarrassed by Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards.
In the scenario that Dallas’ goal was to upgrade over Colombo, Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position with Brown manning Tony Romo’s blind side. Alex Barron would remain the “swing” tackle and Colombo would be released.
3. The Cowboys threw their hat into the Brown bidding just because they knew the Redskins wanted him. Dallas and Washington are division foes. Even if the Cowboys roster looks to contain significantly more talent, the Redskins are a threat, and will be even more so if they keep new quarterback Donovan McNabb off the injured reserve list.
To me, the first option is quite unlikely. Although spring workouts have become rather intense, it is unlikely the Cowboys would judge Free’s future 2010 success off of OTAs and mini-camp.
Furthermore, the Cowboys have an insurance plan in Barron. Why would they attempt to acquire yet another tackle before seeing those two even play in a game?
Scenario number two may be just as unlikely. Colombo is getting older, but he is still a capable player (the ‘09 pass protection stats for all Dallas linemen are above). I find it very hard to believe that Dallas would cut Colombo in favor of a player who missed the 2009 season and struggled in 2008 (I will show how Brown struggled in a bit).
PFT also writes, “Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position.” But is right tackle really Free’s more natural spot? Sure, he played there last season, but his athleticism, in my opinion, makes him a better fit on the left side. The Cowboys apparently agree.
Moreover, although the Cowboys are a bit thin behind Colombo, they did recently draft Brewster and Young. While I see one of those players being released this summer, the addition of Brown would probably force the Cowboys to cut either Colombo or both Brewster and Young.
I just explained why I don’t see Colombo being released, and it seems rather apparent that Dallas will not let go of two young tackles.
Thus, PFT’s third proposition seems to be the most astute. With the current numbers game in Dallas at both tackle positions, any interest the Cowboys showed in Brown may have been deception. If the ‘Boys knew of Washington’s interest in the former Saints tackle (which is probable), getting “involved” in the bidding could increase the compensation due to New Orleans.
Now, a skeptic might claim that if Dallas wanted Washington to know of their “interest,” they would have made it more public. However, NFL teams often gain insights into another team’s strategy (or faux strategy) in ways other than through the media.
Leaking a bunch of information to the media could have tipped off Washington that Dallas’ interest in Brown was a blatant attempt to raise his price.
If this is the case, Dallas did one heck of a job. They forced the Redskins to (in my opinion) overpay for a player who did not play in 2009 and, although he made the Pro Bowl the prior season, did not perform at that sort of level.
So why am I so low on Brown? Take a look at his numbers above (provided by Pro Football Focus). In the last season he played, Brown did a decent job in the run game and allowed only three sacks in 921 snaps (568 were passes). However, he yielded 15 quarterback hits (second-most in the NFL) and 27 pressures. He also committed 10 penalties. PFF had him ranked as the 47th-best tackle in the NFL in 2008.
In 2007, Brown was even worse. PFF had him ranked as the 52nd-best tackle in the NFL during that season.
If I was to grade Brown’s play over his last two seasons, I would provide him with a “B” in run blocking and a “C-” in pass protection. According to my offensive linemen grading system, this would result in a 77.8 (C+) overall grade for Brown. Last season, I gave both Free and Colombo a “B-” overall grade.
Why pay the price of a draft pick for a player who graded out lower than the current starters at his position? The Cowboys would obviously never do such a thing, leading me to believe the team’s perceived interest in Brown was nothing more than a bluff.