Free agent Ronald Leary was so good in 2016 the Dallas Cowboys can no longer afford to re-sign the 5th year offensive guard.
It didn’t look promising at first but the 2016 season played out perfectly for Ronald Leary. Retained as a restricted free agent in the offseason, Leary was originally upset with his situation in Dallas. Slotted again as a backup in 2016, Leary even asked for a trade.
Can’t really blame him either. No one wants to ride the pine in a contract year, especially if the player has a medical condition that could prematurely end his career.
It was a degenerative knee condition caused Ronald Leary to go undrafted in 2012. Appraised by many as 3rd round talent, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t hesitate to sign the former Memphis star as a priority free agent following the draft.
Leary claimed a starting role late in 2013 and he held onto it until a groin injury knocked him out in 2015. The man who replaced Leary at left guard was none other than LSU’s La’el Collins. Collins would never relinquish that role.
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Collins, a first round talent, went undrafted in 2015 after being linked to a murder investigation days before the draft. He opted to join the Dallas Cowboys, inking a three year deal on a team that already boasted the best young offensive line in football.
The motivation for Collins was simple – join a top-quality young line, establish himself (and his value), hit free agency early and re-coop the revenue lost by going undrafted three years earlier.
When Collins replaced Ronald Leary in 2015, it was clear he would not be giving up the job anytime soon. As a result, Leary found himself not only demoted to backup, but a game day inactive since he couldn’t play center.
The 2016 was shaping up to look like that all over again too. Until of course La’el Collins was hurt in week 3. Since then, Ronald Leary established himself as one of the top guards in the NFL. Pro Football Focus rated him #25 in the league (out of roughly 64 starters).
Ronald Leary didn’t play as well as blue-chippers Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick but he played considerably better than the man he replaced in La’el Collins. Now an unrestricted free agent, Ronald Leary looks to take his excellent 2016 performance and turn it into a big-time contract. And that’s the kind of contract the Dallas Cowboys cannot afford to give.
Already backed up against the salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys can’t afford to throw more money at their offensive line. By next season they are likely to have three of the highest paid linemen in the league on the roster so handing out another one seems highly unlikely – especially at the guard position.
Ronald Leary isn’t going to command the payday of fellow Cowboys guard Zack Martin, but he is worthy of a sizable multi-year deal that will price him right out of the Dallas Cowboys budget.
Come to think of it, things worked out well for both Ronald Leary and the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. Leary got a chance to play and establish his value and the Cowboys got a player who performed exceptionally in relief of a starter.
It’ll be sad to see a player like Ronald Leary leave but such is the nature of today’s NFL. Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys they have cornerstone pieces to build around already.