FRISCO, Texas – Free agency opened Thursday with, as expected, more departures than arrivals for the Cowboys – even though Tony Romo currently remains under contract and on the roster despite reports of his impending exit at the start of the new league year.
The Cowboys officially learned Thursday that they'll have to replace two players: starting guard Ron Leary and defensive lineman Jack Crawford.
Leary is signing a four-year deal with Denver, the Broncos announced, and the Falcons announced Crawford is signing with Atlanta.
Multiple reports Thursday stated safety Barry Church could be finalizing a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and defensive tackle Terrell McClain was closing in on a contract with the Washington Redskins, though no formal announcements have been made. (UPDATE: The Redskins announced McClain's signing and the Jaguars announced Church's signing on Friday.)
Leary started 12 games at left guard for an injured La'el Collins last season and made 47 starts over his five seasons in Dallas. He skipped voluntary workouts last spring after losing his starting job to Collins in the middle of the 2015 season. The Cowboys didn't trade him, though, and he filled in capably for Collins as the offense finished fifth in scoring, fifth in total yardage and second in rushing.
Crawford played three seasons with the Cowboys, filling all four spots on the defensive line. In 2016 he made a career-high 10 starts and finished with 27 team-credited tackles (his largest total as a Cowboy) along with 3.5 sacks and 12 quarterback pressures that ranked fifth on defense.
The Cowboys' defensive line will have to do some tweaking without Crawford and McClain. Last year's top free-agent signing, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, could be in line for more playing time. One player set to return is defensive end/tackle David Irving, who was issued an exclusive rights tender earlier this week.
Depending on the market, losing multiple free agents was always a possibility, if not a probability, this offseason. The organization understood its position in this year's free agent period given its modest salary cap space and general philosophy against spending big.
"I accept that," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said last weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "That doesn't bother me because everybody's playing by the same rules and this is the life we've chosen. I don't get mad at it. I get competitive about it. I get frustrated when one doesn't work for us, when we make a decision that we'd like to have back. But I don't get mad at it."
The Cowboys began the new league year with 20 unrestricted free agents, headlined by wide receiver Terrance Williams and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
On Wednesday the club re-signed wide receiver Brice Butler, who made three starts for an injured Dez Bryant last season.