A year ago Doug Free was a question mark. Now he's an exclamation point.
The Dallas Cowboys professed their love for their left tackle yesterday, placing the highest possible tender on him as the NFL prepares for unchartered and unsettling free agency in the midst of a labor lockout.
Under the tender, the Cowboys would pay Free $3.5 million in 2011 and any team signing him as a free agent would be forced to compensate Dallas with first- and third-round draft picks. The team placed the same tender on receiver Miles Austin last off-season before giving him a six-year, $54 million contract during the season.
While it's clear the Cowboys want to keep Free, they will not -- thankfully -- attempt to re-sign Gerald Sensabaugh after his horrible season at safety. The Cowboys also put tenders on Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher and Alan Ball, meaning teams would have to give them something in return if they signed any of the players.
Receiver Sam Hurd and linebacker Leon Williams are also, like Sensabaugh, left to leave. But, of course, all these transactions are under the current system, which becomes extinct Thursday night at 11.
We know who the Cowboys like and don't like. It by no means, however, gives us any certainty of who will play for Dallas next season.
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