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Cowboys Face Moral Dilemma With Ronald Leary

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - The Cowboys' Moral Dilemma with Ronald Leary 1

If you asked a Cowboys fan to name their top five Dallas free agents, I assume that few would mention guard Ronald Leary.

He spent of most of last year on the bench and will be a restricted free agent. Dallas has all the leverage and can likely hold on to Leary for a modest one-year deal using the second-round RFA tender, which in 2016 is likely to pay around $2.5 million. Given Leary's experience and proven ability, that is a bargain price for a reliable backup.

However, if you look at the big picture, you have to wonder if it's the right thing to do.

2015 - Leary Loses Job to La'el Collins

Despite starting for last year's division-winning team and helping DeMarco Murray have a record-breaking season, Leary enters this offseason somewhat forgotten after losing his starting job to La'el Collins.  A groin injury led to him being inactive in Week 3 and allowed Collins to take over, a move that the Cowboys front office was probably not too disappointed to have to make.

After going undrafted due to an unresolved legal issue, Collins was a rare first-round talent that Dallas was able to add in free agency. Collins was brought in to be part of the team's long-term future, leaving no room for Leary to have the same opportunity.

Cowboys Headlines - The Cowboys' Moral Dilemma with Ronald Leary

La'el Collins has received first-round treatment since joining the Cowboys.

Dallas certainly didn't do wrong by Leary in giving the job to Collins last year.

After Tony Romo's injury and the piled-up losses it was no time to worry about veteran loyalty. Though I doubt they'd have given the job back to Leary even if the team was in contention, there was certainly no reason to do it with nothing to play for. Those game reps will serve Collins very well next year and Dallas was right to keep the rookie on the field.

However, that then leads me to this question: should the Cowboys show Ronald Leary some compassion now?

2016 - Leary's RFA Status

Since he was originally undrafted himself, Leary won't earn the Cowboys any compensation if they use the low-end RFA tender of what should be around $1.5 million. Therefore, the only way Dallas can use his restricted status to their advantage is with the roughly $2.5 million second-round tender. That means a team who signs Leary would have to surrender a second-round pick to the Cowboys.

In Leary's case, and especially given the position he plays, it would almost certainly take him out of consideration for any other clubs.

There is plenty to like about Leary on paper.

He will turn just 27 in April and has been part of one of the NFL's best offensive lines the last two years. He shouldn't be expensive after what happened in 2015. There has always been the fear that degenerative knee issues would eventually cut his career short but so far Leary has not shown signs of problems there. I could definitely see a team giving him a modest contract if he was on the open market.

However, no team is going to give up a second-round pick for an interior lineman with bad knees. Even if without the health issue, Leary plays a position that typically is less valued throughout the league than most others.

Traditionally, though this has shifted a bit in recent years, some of a draft's premiere guard and center prospects weren't even getting picked until the second round. If a team needs a guard then they will likely feel they can use their second round pick to take someone younger, with more upside, and without the injury concern.

Dallas' Dilemma

Do the Cowboys owe Leary the chance to get a multi-year deal and an opportunity to start with another team? If the rare fortune of getting La'el Collins had never come to them, the Cowboys would likely be considering giving Leary a three or four-year deal themselves.

This may be his last shot to make a real NFL payday, having played for less than $500K each of the last three years.

Though the NFL is a business, players are often sold on the idea of team pride and family within the organization. It's easy for front offices to forget all that during the offseason but players never forget. Franchises can develop reputations for being player-friendly or cold-hearted, and those reps can come back to bite you when trying to lure free agents.

The Cowboys certainly won't be wrong if they decide to use the restricted tender to hold on to Leary. It's a provision that the players collectively-bargained to allow and teams have every right to use it. Leary will be a fantastic backup for the price and you can't blame a team for making shrewd roster moves.

However, is this a time that they should act with their hearts over their heads?  They have just 10 days until the March 9th deadline to decide.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jess Haynie

    Jess Haynie

    February 29, 2016 at 8:08 am

    We had this as a forum topic in early January but I wanted to revisit and discuss in more depth as we get close to decision time. I'm curious where you guys lean in terms of "head vs. heart" when it comes to dealing with players.

    • Ernie

      March 1, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Speaking of teams being fair to the players, does anyone know if Sean Lee got his $500,000 that he initially lost because he missed the last game?

  2. Zac Fields

    February 29, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I kinda think this situation is perfect for Leary, depending on how you look at it.

    He dropped from a solid 3rd round grade (which is where many starting guards are drafted) to undrafted because of a degenerative knee problem. Everyone knew he could play in his rookie season but the problem was that nobody knew how long his career could be.

    To me, that problem isn't any better today than it was when he was a rookie. In fact, 3 years into his career, now you're down to wondering if he's got one year left, two years, or is he already done now?

    I'm just not sure if he hit free agency if he would get a ton of interest for that reason. It could turn out that getting tagged and making a cool $2.5 million for this season is a great deal for him.

    But I do see your point. What if a team out there was willing to give him $3-4 million for two seasons? It's at least a little security.

  3. Jess Haynie

    Jess Haynie

    March 1, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Pigskin Zac

    But I do see your point. What if a team out there was willing to give him $3-4 million for two seasons? It's at least a little security.

    That's my focus. Leary would get more than just $2.5 million in guaranteed money if he got a starting gig somewhere. It wouldn't be a huge deal but far better for him in the long run.

  4. Jess Haynie

    Jess Haynie

    March 1, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    InsideTheStar.com User

    Speaking of teams being fair to the players, does anyone know if Sean Lee got his $500,000 that he initially lost because he missed the last game?

    No idea, but Dallas has a tendency to take care of guys in a situation like that. Wouldn't worry about it.

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Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now

Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.

After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx

The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.

Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.

But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.

Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.

The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.

Tell me what you think about "Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick

Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.

After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire

While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.

It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.

Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.

That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.

But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.

Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.



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For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way

John Williams

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Playoff Scenarios Aim Towards Seahawks vs Cowboys in Wild Card

In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.

This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.

A few Rams Passing Game Notes

  • The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
  • The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
  • The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
  • The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
  • They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
  • The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.

Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.

On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.

The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.

NFL Research on Twitter

Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak

No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.

The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.

This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.



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