It has recently crossed the wire that Ronald Leary has submitted a trade request to the Dallas Cowboys. Leary, 27, is signed to a one-year, free agent-restricted contract worth $2.553 million. After last year’s acquisition of undrafted free agent La’el Collins –who was a first-round talent in last year’s draft- Leary lost his starting job and was never able to reclaim it. Leary’s purpose behind the request is to hopefully earn a lucrative deal and to again prove himself capable of starter form.
Spending his collegiate career at the University of Memphis as a left tackle, Leary was considered worthy of a mid-round selection if he was able to slide inside to play guard. At the combine, however, doctors discovered that he had a degenerative knee disorder. It was thought at the time that this could limit his career longevity but not keep him off the field right away. Scaring off teams, the injury resulted in him falling out of the draft and becoming a highly-coveted UDFA. At the time of the signing, the Cowboys couldn’t have been happier to land him. Owner Jerry Jones was so excited that he even interrupted a reporter asking him a question saying, “Let me just stop a minute. We’ve just signed Ron Leary of Memphis. We really had him high.” The Cowboys loved his skill-set and the nasty streak he could bring to their offensive line.
Following a breakout performance against All-Pro J.J. Watt in week five of the 2014 season, Leary became adored by Cowboys fans everywhere for his consistency in the passing game and his road-grader mentality in the run game. Leary was responsible, at one point, for completing what was an already impressive collection of talent along the offensive line. It appeared that Dallas was set at offensive line for the next several years.
The Cowboys have built what many are referring to as the “Great Wall of Dallas, Part 2,” and after being an integral component to that foundation, Leary is no longer satisfied with his role on the team as a backup. After all, the Cowboys have been very healthy along the offensive line in the last few seasons, and Leary doesn’t likely see a path to significant playing time. Doug Free may be the only exception, and they already drafted his replacement last year with their third-round selection of Florida tackle Chaz Green. Green is currently being considered a swing tackle but will eventually slide into Free’s right tackle position by virtue of nagging foot injuries and/or declining play as he enters his mid-thirties. Free is currently in the second year of a three-year, $15 million dollar contract he signed after the 2014 season.
Now, questioning why the Cowboys would want to trade Leary’s trade request- when he provides valuable depth and has already proven to be a formidable starter- is certainly fair. When surveying the NFL landscape and examining some of the more accomplished teams, such as the New England Patriots for example, there is some credence in the idea that trading a player for picks can certainly be a great way to add towards a team’s value in the future. This was the approach the Patriots took when they traded Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones in the last year of his deal for guard Jonathan Cooper (a former top-10 pick himself) and a second-round pick in the 2016 draft. Rookies are inexpensive assets that have the potential to outperform their contracts, which is why there’s such an emphasis on the draft every year.
This sentiment becomes even more imperative when you have high-priced veterans like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Tyrone Crawford, Brandon Carr, Sean Lee, Jason Witten and Tyron Smith who account for over $70 million in cap space this season. The Cowboys have approximately $88 million to pay the other 45 players on the roster, which averages out to about $2 million per player. That’s certainly not a lot of leeway. Of course, the other argument is that you are forfeiting the ability to have that player for the upcoming season, which would hurt your chances to be successful in a league where the windows for winning can be fleeting. The smart teams tend to already have good depth, so they are able to use the former approach. The Cowboys don’t have good depth at Leary’s position, so it would be wise to retain him if they want to mitigate injury attrition.
With the recent loss of Mackenzy Bernadeau in free agency, the Cowboys need Leary more than ever. The exit of Bernadeau was a major blow as he filled a valuable role as the team’s backup center and guard who stepped in when needed. Never much of a liability along the offensive line, his presence will be missed since Dallas didn’t select a guard in the draft. The team did sign Joe Looney to a two-year deal to provide depth, but he is not viewed as a viable candidate to start multiple games if necessary.
Essentially, Leary holds much more value to the Cowboys than he would to another team. Dallas would likely want a third or fourth-round pick as compensation, but there just aren’t a lot of teams-if any-that feel they are a solid starting guard from a Super Bowl run. This is especially true if they are only getting a player for one year with concerns about his longevity. The Cowboys would also be in line to receive a compensatory pick if Leary were to sign a deal elsewhere.
On May 27, Leary changed his twitter page to remove all ties to the Cowboys, so a potential departure of the offensive lineman appears inevitable. Fortunately for Dallas, his wish is not their command.