We were all stunned Monday afternoon when Travis Frederick, the All-Pro center for the Dallas Cowboys, announced his early retirement. But once you get past the shock and look at the real impact on the team, it’s reasonable to conclude that losing Frederick won’t be a huge blow to the Cowboys’ success in 2020.
Before we dig in, this is no way a slight to the quality of player that Travis has been for Dallas since 2013. He was arguably the best center in football and went to five Pro Bowls in seven seasons. None of our current centers will be in 2020 what Frederick was at his peak.
But in Travis’ owns words from his retirement announcement, “I could no longer perform at my highest level.
Travis Frederick in 2019 wasn’t the same guy as in his first five seasons. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t still a strong starter and the best option on the roster, but he wasn’t elite anymore.
Perhaps having some inside knowledge of Frederick’s plans to retire, the Cowboys re-signed primary backup Joe Looney less than a week before Travis’ public announcement. They also retained Adam Redmond shortly before free agency began.
Along with those free agency moves, Dallas still has last year’s third-round pick Connor McGovern. He played center for an entire season during his college career.
Again, I don’t expect any of these guys to give us what Frederick did from 2013-2017. But after seeing what happened in 2018 when Looney had to fill in for Travis the entire season, it doesn’t appear that they have to.
While there was certainly a drop-off from the elite Travis Frederick to Looney in 2018, it wasn’t enough that it kept Dallas from going 10-6, being NFC East Champs, and winning their first playoff game. Joe filled those big shoes adequately.
Two years later and Joe Looney should still be about the same guy, turning 30 in August. And while he was having to step in for the best center in football in 2018, the bar is a little lower now based on Frederick’s admitted decline last season.
Granted, we are assuming Looney will be the starting center now and not accounting for a competition this summer. But if Connor McGovern can do enough to take the job away from Joe before Week One, that’s only a positive for the Cowboys and would help mitigate the loss of Travis Frederick even more.
Another factor here is the salary cap, and thankfully Frederick’s decision isn’t damaging to Dallas in that regard.
Travis was scheduled to count nearly $12 million million against the 2020 cap. His retirement, which impacts the cap the same way releasing a player does, creates a little over $11 million in dead money. Dallas actually gets $935k in cap relief in this deal.
Sure, carrying an $11 million cap hit for a player who isn’t helping you on the field isn’t ideal. But the key here is that it didn’t create MORE dead money and force Dallas to change any of its plans with other free agents.
As K.D. Drummond of CowboysWire broke down well the other day, there is also a way for the Cowboys to have the dead money split between 2020 and 2021 and get about $7 million in cap relief they can use now.
So yes, losing Travis Frederick this way was a shock and disappointment for all invested in the Dallas Cowboys. If anything, we hope he’d be even further along in his recovery this year and be back to elite form.
But the key here is that Dallas has options, and now the change from Frederick to Joe Looney isn’t the same difference as it was two years ago. While the initial news hit like a wave, the actual impact could be a mere ripple in the Cowboys’ 2020 season.