He felt more like a rookie than the club's most valued offseason signee.
Despite having inked a $32 million, four-year deal to return as Tony Romo's most valued blocker, Free could do little more than observe a morning walkthrough and the club's first practice in pads because of a rule that's keeping all free agents out of action until the middle of the week.
Left guard Kyle Kosier joined Free as an observer, as he too arrived at camp and signed a deal agreed to earlier in the week. More temporary visitors are on the way as the Cowboys agreed Saturday to a contract with defensive end Kenyon Coleman, a run-stopping specialist.
The first practice in pads was marred by a player accidentally running over receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, knocking him unconscious. He was sent to a hospital for evaluation, and was released about the time the afternoon workout finished.
"Prayers answered," owner Jerry Jones said.
Teddy Williams, the sprinter-turned-receiver who hit Robinson, came away with a hamstring injury. No timetable was given for his return. Add him to a list that also includes running back Tashard Choice (calf, out up to a month), linebacker Keith Brooking (hamstring, two weeks) and running back DeMarcus Murray (hamstring, two weeks).
With big moves on both lines done, Jones can turn his attention to finding help for the secondary -- at safety, that is, not cornerback.
The Cowboys have made it clear they need to find a starter, maybe two, at safety but on Friday the front office made a big push to land cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who was considered the top free agent at any position. Jones said he went after Asomugha "'til my eyes watered," only to see him wind up with division rival Philadelphia.
"I don't even know what our administration was even doing with Nnamdi," Campo said. "I think he's an outstanding player, but I'm telling you, we've got good corners. I feel good about the guys we've got."
Asomugha played for Ryan in Oakland, and Ryan called him "probably my most favorite player I've ever coached." But Ryan said he "never even thought (signing Asomugha) was much of a consideration to be honest with you," and that "the chase wasn't as real as apparently people made it out."
So when Jones called Ryan over to the sideline during practice Friday and handed him a cell phone, that conversation wasn't with Asomugha?
"Nah, that wasn't really true," Ryan said. "We're happy as hell with the guys we got. ... I think they match up with anybody else's in the league, and I really believe that."
Jones said it was as simple as seeing an opportunity and chasing it.
"You can't ever get enough corners," he said.
When the lockout ended and the offseason began, Jones devoted his attention to the offensive line, with Free his top priority after just one season at left tackle.
A forgotten backup his first two years, Free did a good enough job filling in at right tackle in 2009 that he was given a chance to start at the pivotal left side. He was so solid that when the settlement of the lockout made him a free agent, the Cowboys scrambled to keep him. They struck a deal the very first night.
"I had a fairly good idea (about staying), you'd like to think, but you never know when it comes down to it if it's all going to work out in the end," Free said.
Free is counting on returning to left tackle.
"It's the position that I feel comfortable at, the position I played all last year," he said. "So it's definitely important that I play over there."
All players who weren't signed when the lockout began can't suit up until the new collective bargaining agreement is completely finalized and the league year begins. That's expected to happen Thursday.
Some other subjects Jones addressed Saturday:
» He's willing to keep kicker David Buehler just to kick off, even if Dan Bailey wins the battle for placekicks. New rules on kickoffs make it less necessary to keep a specialist, but Jones said, "I like the idea of bringing that thing out to the 20 every time."
» Since he said Friday that trading for Roy Williams was a mistake, Jones was asked whether it was worse than the trading of two first-round picks to get Joey Galloway. He couldn't pick between the two.
"I think I'd flip a coin on those," he said.
Jones explained the rationale behind getting both receivers. A factor in each was getting a proven target for quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Romo. Asked whether they deserve part of the blame, Jones smiled and said, "If anyone will believe that, I'll do it. I'll try it."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press