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Free Agent Overview: Leary Showed In 2016 He's Still An Effective Starter

With the NFL offseason now officially underway, it's never too early to start focusing on the next order of business, which is free agency. The Cowboys have 20 unrestricted free agents who can sign with other teams starting on March 9, unless they strike a new deal with the Cowboys before then.

Over the next two weeks, staff writers will break down each free agent, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and the possibilities of a return in 2017.

Today, we'll continue the series with guard Ronald Leary.

What's The Deal:The Cowboys' offensive line is widely considered the biggest strength on the roster, a dominant group that includes All-Pros Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Leary has been an underrated asset both as a starter and a backup. The 27-year-old guard has started 50 games (including playoffs) since 2012 for an offense that, intermittently over the last five seasons, has been among the most productive in the league in passing and rushing.

Cowboys Highlight: Well, two come to mind. First, after spending the majority of the 2012 season on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie, Leary earned the starting job at left guard in training camp the next summer and went on to start 37 games over the next three years. Second, after losing his starting job to La'el Collins midway through the 2015 season, Leary stepped in for an injured Collins in Week 3 this past season and showed he could still be a vital component on the line. He started the final 13 games (including playoffs) at left guard and the Cowboys finished the year ranked fifth in scoring average (26.3), fifth in total yards per game (376.7), second in rushing per game (149.8), fourth in total first downs (358), 10th in third down conversion percentage (42.3).

Argument To Keep:So much is said about the O-Line's productivity, but Collins' toe injury last year was a reminder that even this powerful line is one injury away from a forced shuffle in the lineup. Leary stayed ready despite disappointment in moving from starter to reserve, and the offense maintained its balanced efficiency over the final 13 games.

Argument To Let Go: Still in his 20s with 50 career starts, Leary simply might garner more free-agent interest on the open market from a financial standpoint than the Cowboys can fit into their 2017 salary cap plans.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Take: I have a great deal of respect for Leary and what he did this season. Would have been real easy for him to show up to camp badly out of shape and sulking, but he was the complete opposite. The front office and coaching staff made him a backup player but he prepared for the season like a starter and it paid off for him and the club. While remaking his body, he became a better fit for the scheme. Losing weight without losing strength allowed him to play on a level he had not before. He was more mobile and where he had issues before in space, he was able to execute those blocks that he once couldn't. His endurance improved as well and this was especially important for an offense that went on long, time-consuming drives and he was able to play at a high level. With Collins returning to the lineup, it is likely that the front office will move on from Leary who will command a bigger pay day from another team with the promise to start. What the Cowboys will miss is his competitiveness, toughness and work ethic.

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