Assuming one is using correct form on both lifts which one is easier on the lower back (In terms of injury not muscle growth)
Division 1 shotputter.
I would say free squats. The sitting on the box is def going to put more strain directly on your spine.
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I was always told not to sit on the box but when i feel the beginning of the cushion to explode up. Then again we use a pretty low box with a cushion on it so you never actually sit down.
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ya the free squats are easier on the back, but do build it better than a free squat.
Basically just going till you know its there is practically same as doing a regular squat but using it to check your depth, and you won't get all the advantages of even doing a box squat.
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