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.
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.
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 Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
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