Ronald Leary back in the silver and blue? Don’t discount it.
The Dallas Cowboys executed a shrewd business move in 2017 when they let their starting left guard defect in free agency. Now, three years later, they have an opportunity to rectify it.
Leary is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 18, after the Denver Broncos declined to exercise his option. He’s permitted to begin negotiating with any club on March 16, the opening of the legal tampering window.
And he appears all for a return to JerryWorld.
Signed by Dallas as a 2012 undrafted free agent, Leary was a 16-game starter the following two seasons, beating out Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, respectively. He was a key cog on arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and earned impressive marks, particularly as a run-blocker, from Pro Football Focus.
Leary developed an injury-prone reputation, however, missing 12 games in 2015 and three in 2016, after unsuccessfully motioning for a trade. He battled a concussion and back injury that year but helped spring Ezekiel Elliott to the rushing title.
He got his pink-slip wish the next offseason as Denver signed him to a four-year, $36 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound lineman was named the Broncos’ first-string RG for the 2017 campaign, but his aforementioned reputation preceded him; he was lost to injured reserve with a back issue, 11 games into his contract.
Leary was moved to his natural left guard spot in 2018, though he again failed to stay on the field, making only six appearances before suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon. Fully recovered, he was kicked over to right guard last season, playing in 12 games until — you guessed it! — an injury forced him to IR.
Broncos general manager John Elway announced at last month’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that Leary’s option would be declined, freeing $8.5 million of salary-cap space while plunging the 31-year-old (in April) into choppy free-agent waters.
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Potential Fit Upon Cowboys Reunion
Just because Leary’s entertaining a second stint doesn’t mean the Cowboys are. But, assuming they do re-sign him, there’s a path to immediate playing time, either as a swing-type backup or, possibly, a starter along the front-five.
Leary has no ability to play tackle and Dallas is set at right guard with perennial Pro Bowler Zack Martin. Left guard, though, is a different story with Connor Williams as the weakest link. A motivated and healthy Leary could spark a heated competition and theoretically push Williams out of the lineup.
If anything else, Leary would step right in as the primary reserve behind Martin and Williams, taking the job of Xavier Su’a-Filo, an unrestricted free agent. The Cowboys likely will seek depth this offseason considering OL Joe Looney (UFA) and Adam Redmond (exclusive-rights free agent) are, too, currently unsigned for 2020.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL