Let's trade Ron Leary, shall we?
At least that's how Ron Leary sees it, if you believe the reports that surfaced on Tuesday that Leary and his agent are seeking a trade from the Cowboys. (CHQ has reached out to Leary wishing for first-hand comment.) That prompted all sorts of scenarios on Twitter, along with at least one tweeter who said Leary was acting like an "unappreciative child."
Uh, no. He's not. Sorry. Can't get on board with that. I totally get where Leary is coming from. Yes, he's playing for a $2-million restricted free-agent tender and he signed it, but frankly he didn't have any other options and $2 million is better than nothing. But don't confuse this with 2016. If Leary has to stay in Dallas and be the backup, that's what he'll do. This is about 2017. Leary will finally hit unrestricted free agency and it's hard to get teams interested in paying top-dollar — heck, even medium-dollar — if you're not playing.
Leary wants to play, but he also needs to play. A football player's window to make money is short and Leary has already won the NFL lottery — from undrafted free agent to two-year full-time starter before losing the job last year. We shouldn't begrudge anyone for wanting to play and improve his salary. That's what this is about.
Now it takes two to tango. The Cowboys have to want to trade Leary, and frankly what's the incentive? Leary is under contract, he's experienced and he can step in immediately if either La'el Collins or Zack Martin gets hurt. Even if the Cowboys agree to Leary's demand, they have to find a team willing to take him.
But let's say the Cowboys and a suitor hit the dance floor. What would a trade look like?
Thanks to Spotrac.com, we have some history to go by. I tracked a dozen trades for guards from 2013-16, just to see what the value might be for Leary. The trades fell into three categories — player for player, player for pick and some combination of the two. Let's take a look.
Player for Player
Five trades fell into this category. The guards traded were Jordan Devey, Ryan Groy, Rishaw Johnson, Nate Menkin and John Moffitt. Haven't heard of any of them? That's no surprise. Combined, the quintet had 23 career NFL starts before they were traded and Moffitt had 15 of them. I think one can make the assumption that Leary, with 35 career starts, has more value than any of those players.
But what did those five players attract? A tight end (Asante Cleveland), a linebacker (Matthew Wells), a safety (Kelcie McCray), a wide receiver (Jeff Maehl) and a defensive tackle (Sealver Siliga). Siliga is probably the most accomplished of the bunch, having started 13 games in four seasons. The rest were backups.
If the Cowboys trade Leary straight-up for a player, I sense based on history they could get a starter-level player. But understand the cap ramifications here. The Star-Telegram has speculated that a deal with Tennessee involving Brian Orakpo would be a "win-win.'' Forget about the value of the players for the moment ... because such an idea never gets to that point. Why? In this salary-cap era, the team trading away a veteran, big-money, long-term guy gets saddled with his dead money. It would cost the Titans millions to deal Orakpo (in addition to Dallas having to pay millions more to the 29-year-old talent with injury concerns of his own.)
Player for draft pick
Four of the trades featured guards traded for a draft pick — Gabe Carimi, Jeremiah Sirles, Andy Levitre and Ben Grubbs. With the exception of Sirles, these were trades for more established players. Carimi had 16 starts under his belt when Chicago moved him to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick. But Carimi, now in Atlanta, did not play in 2015. Levitre had seven-straight 16-start seasons when Tennessee acquired him for a sixth-round pick in 2015. Grubbs had 118 starts before Kansas City traded a fifth-round pick to acquire him in 2015. Sirles went to Minnesota for a sixth-round pick.
It's interesting that Carimi snagged the highest pick of the four players, even though he wasn't nearly as accomplished as Levitre or Grubbs. It leads me to believe that if the Cowboys were to pursue a draft pick for Leary they could get as high as a fourth-round pick, but it's more likely to be a fifth-round pick.
Worth noting here: If Dallas keeps Leary and then releases him to free agency in 2017, the Cowboys will receive a compensatory pick. We can't know what it might be ... but if it's, say, a fifth- or sixth-rounder, what would be the point of dealing him now for the same sort of pick?
The combination deals
The remaining three trades, frankly, were dependent on what the teams were seeking. Earlier this season New England moved one of their defensive ends, Chandler Jones, to Arizona for guard Johnathan Cooper. Both players had high value. Jones had 36 career sacks and the Cardinals were willing to not only give up Cooper, who was a first-round pick and ascending starter for the Cardinals, but also a 2016 second-round pick.
If the first deal was an example of a trade for ascending players, the next was an example of a trade for a descending player. In 2014 the Patriots moved one of their stalwarts up front, Logan Mankins, to Tampa Bay for Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick. Mankins retired this spring after two seasons in Tampa Bay.
The last deal was for Manuel Ramirez, but it really had nothing to do with him. The Denver Broncos were seeking to move up in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft and sent the Lions Ramirez — a full-time starter at guard in the 2013 and 2014 seasons — along with their No. 28 overall pick and two fifth-round picks to get to Detroit's No. 23 selection to take Shane Ray, who won a Super Bowl with Denver last season.
It's unlikely Leary would attract this sort of a deal. If the Cowboys were to move Leary it would like be for either a player at a position the Cowboys need — like defensive end — or a draft pick in the fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round range. The Cowboys would have to overcome the fact that guard is not a highly-valued position when it comes to trades, as history suggests. They will also likely need a trading partner that needs a starting guard due to injury. The Cowboys' best shot at accommodating Leary's demand would be to remain patient and wait for a team with a glaring need at the position so they can acquire maximum value for Leary. ... all along armed with the understanding that Leary's degenerative left knee condition (which kept him from getting drafted in the first place) might keep tamped down however "maximum'' that "value'' is.
And maybe there is more value to simply retaining him.