Though not the biggest news we’ll hear this offseason, Dallas extending tenders to restricted free agents Jeff Heath and Ron Leary merits a little discussion. Here’s what these moves could mean for the Cowboys’ remaining strategy for the safety and the offensive line positions.
Assuming both guys sign their one-year offers, Heath will earn $1.67 million next season. He is expected to remain a core special teams player and backup. If Byron Jones becomes a starter as many are projecting, that would likely push J.J. Wilcox to the bench. Despite his experience Wilcox would only be making about $15K more than Heath. They would form a relatively inexpensive pair of solid, versatile reserves.
Because restricted free agent contracts are non-guaranteed Dallas still has total flexibility in the offseason. If they land a safety prospect in the draft then they can cut Heath without penalty down the road. For that matter, they could also cut Wilcox for only a fractional penalty. Dallas may even be planning to add a younger prospect and have Heath and Wilcox battle for a roster spot.
Guard & Center
As I discussed at length in a recent article, the second-round tender that Dallas gave Leary will likely be more than any team would be willing to give up to sign him. Leary will make about $2.5 million as a backup, which is about what Dallas has been paying Mackenzy Bernadeau for the same job the last few years. The decision to tender Leary at that price makes it unlikely that Dallas will try to re-sign Bernadeau as well.
A team can still certainly try to acquire Leary in a negotiated trade, perhaps offering a third or fourth-round pick. Dallas won’t let him go without hesitation, though, as they have no significant prospects behind him. Chaz Green, drafted as an offensive tackle, has done some work as a guard and may wind up there next year.
Losing Leary and Bernadeau would leave the Cowboys’ bench depleted at both guard and center. There seem to always be bargains out there for backup offensive linemen so they may not be worried about replenishing their stock. If they can get a decent pick in return for Leary then Dallas will likely make that deal.
Assuming Leary is a Cowboy in 2016, though, then the greatest impact of this move will be the likely departure of Bernadeau and the increased need for a backup center. The Cowboys could end up drafting one fairly early if they don’t address it in free agency. Interestingly enough, Zack Martin’s younger brother Nick is a considered a Day Two prospect and may be exactly what the Cowboys are looking for.