The Dallas Cowboys were thrilled to get Travis Frederick back in 2019, having to play all of the previous season without their All-Pro center. But now the team has to decide what to do about Joe Looney's free agency, and that year of starting in 2018 may be what takes Looney out of Dallas this offseason.
Here's where our centers currently stand for contracts in 2020:
2020 Center Contract Statuses
UFA = Unrestricted | RFA = Restricted
As we discussed in yesterday's piece about the Guard position, you almost have to look at the interior line as a whole. Versatile players like Looney and Redmond here, or Connor McGovern at guard, impact each other regardless of what their official designation is.
Before we dig deeper, let's quickly dispel the idea that Dallas would give Adam Redmond an RFA tender. Even the cheapest one for original draft pick compensation is projected to be a little over $2 million in 2020; way more than Dallas would want to pay for Redmond.
The Cowboys would love to keep Joe Looney at that price, but Looney's solid play as the full-time starter in 2018 will make that difficult. He is one of the 32 best centers in the NFL and is still 29 years old; hard to imagine that another team won't be offering him a job in free agency.
Thankfully, knowing when Looney's contract would be up, Dallas appears to have prepared for this offseason by drafting McGovern in 2019.
Connor has center/guard flexibility and was considered a steal when the Cowboys got him late in the third round. Some thought he might even push Xavier Su'a-Filo off the roster as a rookie, or get Looney traded elsewhere, but a pectoral injury kept McGovern off the field last year.
Now Dallas has a tougher decision. Do you trust an unproven entity in McGovern to be your primary backup at center?
Thankfully, Frederick's full 16-game return in 2019 mitigates a lot of the concern. This isn't like having to ensure you have reliable depth behind an injury-prone player.
Travis missed 2018 due to a fluke neurological condition and appears to have full recovered. Frederick has never missed a single game outside of that season and Dallas can feel good about his availability going forward.
That's why I don't expect the Cowboys to fight to keep Joe Looney. If he tests free agency and gets no interest then maybe he takes a major discount to stay in Dallas. But I doubt that happens give his resume.
At most, I could see Dallas negotiating a deal with Adam Redmond outside of the RFA deals. They could give him a modest raise on a short-term deal to provide some experienced depth and insurance on McGovern. The Cowboys might also look to a veteran free agent from the outside for this role.
But 2020 feels like Connor McGovern's time. Heck, some have even suggested he should be allowed to compete for Connor Williams' spot at left guard. That was how well-regarded he was coming out of college.
Given that, it would be very disappointing if McGovern can't at least be a trusted backup in 2020.
The Cowboys can go either way on this one. They have resources to pay Looney if they want to, but they have an asset in place in McGovern if they want to move on.
We'll see how it unfolds in the coming weeks.