Cowboys Internal Free Agency Discussions Start With Dallas' Restricted Players

The Cowboys free-agency landscape has several different terrains. Here, we look at the footing underneath the restricted free agents who are somewhat still under Dallas' control.

The Cowboys have a lot of work to do, prior to attacking the 2016 draft. A lot of ink has been spilled recently over the apparent rift between unrestricted free agent linemen Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey. Mincey has had a few things to say about the state of the team and whether or not the addition of Hardy was a negative influence on the locker room. At the least, he's suggested that the team will need to decide between he and Hardy as far as who will be a leader to the young players in the position group. It's an interesting take considering how difficult it must be to lead with no example; Mincey didn't record a single sack in 2015.

While the conversation about who will stay and who will go generally centers around players like Hardy and UFA LB Rolando McClain, there are other players who can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but not necessarily reach out and grab it. Those players are the ones classified as restricted free agents, and the Cowboys have interesting cases on their roster currently. 

RFA’s are defined as players with three years of service in the league and three accrued seasons. To count as an accrued season, a player basically must appear in six games for the team. If so, that player is still under the control of their original team, even though his contract has expired. This will normally pertain to UDFA’s, or undrafted free agents, as players that are drafted by a team get a four-year contract. Dallas has two players whom fall into this category.

The interesting part here is that the club has to place a qualifying offer on said player, in order to retain his rights. The player is still free to negotiate with other clubs for a long-term deal. If he receives an offer, the original club can either match it, or receive draft pick compensation based on the level of their qualifying offer. If the player does not sign an offer sheet with another club, he will stay with the original club for a salary equal to the qualifying offer. The player is still free to negotiate a long-term deal with the original team as well and unfortunately for them, the qualifying offer isn’t even a guaranteed deal. As such, a qualifying offer can be removed should the team sign a different free agent at that position.

Here’s a look at the projected various levels of a qualifying offer.

  • Level 1: $1,696,200 (Right of First Refusal or Original Round Pick)
  • Level 2: $2,591,600 (Second Round Pick)
  • Level 3: $3,687,200 (First Round Pick)
  • Note: The offers are based on the salary cap for the year, and that has not been determined. However there is a rule that the increase will be no less than 5% and no more than 10%, so we’re using 10% as the max amount of increase.

This is where things get tricky. If Dallas wants to keep a player, they have to judge whether or not said player is likely to receive an offer from a club willing to part ways with the associated level of the draft pick. A player that was a UDFA will garner no compensation pick if he signs an offer sheet with another club after being tendered at that level.

NFL teams have until the start of the new league year, March 9th, 2016 4pm Eastern, to tender their RFAs. For the rest of the Offseason Calendar of important dates, click here.

Last year, the Cowboys had four players who were RFA's. Cole Beasley signed a mult-year extension, but the club tendered both RB Lance Dunbar and P Chris Jones at original-level. As both were free agents, this meant the club controlled them for the cheapest price, but would not receive anything if they were signed by another club. They were fortunate, as that didn't happen and both contributed to the 2015 season. Dallas chose not to tender CB Sterling Moore and he would later sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The club would later sign Jones to a two-year deal that reduced the amount of his 2015 cap hit from the tender amount.

How does Dallas look at the landscape for their restricted free agents? We’ll have to wait and see. Our 2015 Offseason Schedule says that the club has to extend the qualifying offer by the start of the league year, March 10th. Players have until April 24th to sign their offer sheets. Here’s a look at the players Cowboys will have to decide on, and what kind of tender they might have to place on a player to keep them.

Ron Leary (G)

Leary is in an interesting situation. A UDFA out of Memphis, he rose to a starting gig with Dallas and played reasonably well. So much so that prior to last year's draft class, many expected him to be a potential multi-year candidate. However, maverick owner Jerry Jones swooped in after the 2015 draft and landed La'el Collins as a UDFA and the projected first-rounder who was railroaded by false concerns over a murder charge took over the position as Leary battled injuries.

                     

Leary is a capable NFL starter and would probably be descended upon in an open market, but Dallas fortunately controls his rights. His failures in 2015 seemed to be related to injury concerns that were unrelated to the knee condition that caused him to go undrafted prior to the 2013 draft. ("Failures'' being relative because the organization pushed for rookie La'el Collins to successfully win the left-guard job.) There should be interest from other teams here. Not necessarily for the tender amount, but Dallas could tender him, then trade him for a third- or fourth-round pick during the draft.

Projected Tender Value: Second Round ($2.6  million)

Prediction: Dallas tenders Leary, but doesn't sign him to a new deal, waiting to see if they get offers for him. If they don't, they control Leary's mobility and have a starting-level backup for the next season. 

Jeff Heath (S)

The curious case of Jeff Heath. An UDFA, Heath has spent the majority of his time in Dallas on special teams and as the object of scorn and ridicule amongst Cowboys Nation. His play has improved from what he showed as a rookie, where he seemed incapable in coverage, but the stigma remains. He led Dallas in interceptions in 2015, though nobody should be excited. His grand total of two happened in the same game, against Tampa, and both came off deflections that fell into his arms. Heath is a solid special-teams contributor and backup safety, but nothing more will be planned for him.

                          

Projected Tender Value: Right of First Refusal ($1.7 million)

Prediction: This has the feeling of Dallas extending a tender to make sure they aren't left holding the bag, and then rescinding it later in the year if they bring in additional help through free agency or the draft. Tough world to live in for the RFA. 

                  

NEXT UP: The entire group, including the unrestricted FAs, giving Dallas a total of 18 players to consider. Click here to see the Cowboys "Important Dates'' for the offseason and then continue the free-agency conversation, which starts with Greg Hardy and it starts here with our quickie thoughts here on CowboysHQ Premium Boards.


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