Cowboys Pressed to Re-Sign Former Starting OL in ‘Backup Role’

Ronald Leary

Getty Ronald Leary

The Dallas Cowboys executed a shrewd business move in 2017 when they allowed starting left guard Ronald Leary to defect in free agency, losing the 320-pound mauler to the Denver Broncos.

Leary’s tenure in Denver was underwhelming, to say the least. He lasted three inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons before landing in the unemployment line, where he’s remained since March. Entering his age-31 campaign, it’s likely that Leary’s days as a starter are behind him.

But, fully healthy, he could be valuable insurance for an undermanned or particularly young offensive line.

The Cowboys fall into the latter category as it pertains to their backup guard spots, and Bleacher Report connected the dots, naming Dallas and Cleveland the “best fits” for Leary’s unclaimed services.

While Larry Warford is the cream of the remaining offensive line crop, he isn’t the only option for guard-needy teams. Former Cowboys and Denver Broncos guard Ronald Leary remains available and is another starting-caliber option.

While Leary is a bit of a health risk—he finished both 2017 and 2018 on injured reserve and missed another four games in 2019—he’s also started 76 of his 77 career games. He could be an option for the Cleveland Browns, who are heading into camp with no clear starter at right guard.

If Leary is willing to take a backup role, he could return to the Cowboys to provide depth behind Connor Williams and Zack Martin. He might even have a shot at unseating Williams on the left side. For his part, Leary doesn’t seem opposed to the idea.

“I do still have my crib in Dallas,” Leary tweeted back in March.

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Remember Him?

Before Connor Williams was manning LG for the Cowboys, it was Leary’s job. Signed in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, he was a 16-game starter the following two seasons, beating out Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, respectively. The Memphis product was a key cog on arguably the best 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 ailment that year but helped spring Cowboys star running back 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. Leary 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 pact.

Leary was stationed at his natural left guard post in 2018, though he again failed to stay on the field, making only six appearances prior to suffering a torn Achilles. 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, knowing a lemon when he sees one, announced at February’s Scouting Combine that Leary’s option would be declined. In March, the team inked his replacement, former Lions OG Graham Glassgow, to a four-year, $44 million contract.

Leary has drawn no known interest since his release, thanks in large part to his injury jacket and the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered NFL facilities for several months. Finding a new home in 2020 is undoubtedly contingent on his ability to pass a physical.

Potential Fit with Cowboys

The club has a few upside projects in second-year interior lineman Connor McGovern, the No. 2 behind Williams, and fourth-round rookie center Tyler Biadasz, who should compete with Joe Looney for the right to succeed retired Travis Frederick.

But the Cowboys don’t possess a true veteran among the bunch. How’s this for perspective: 2019 UDFA Wyatt Miller is tentatively penciled in as the backup to perennial Pro Bowl RG Zack Martin. It’s possible that OG Cameron Erving moonlights at both positions, though he’s also a snap away from starting at tackle. Not an overly encouraging situation.

A Leary reunion makes sense on some level. He wouldn’t cost more than the vet minimum — no guaranteed money — and already knows the locker room. It’d be a low-risk, high-reward flier that Dallas, to this point, appears unwilling to take.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL