On Friday morning, we looked at the signing bonuses paid to the undrafted free agents the Cowboys recently signed. We saw that the Cowboys, like every other NFL team, had $76,585 to spend on UDFA bonuses this year.
The NFL introduced this free agent cap to lower the overall amount of money spent on college free agents, and to prevent the wealthy teams from spending more money than some of the cheaper teams were willing to spend on talent acquisition.
The Cowboys ended up spending all but $85 of their allotted bonus money, which they spread across 19 players. The highest signing bonus went to receiver Saalim Hakim with $10,000 and next up were OT Levy Adcock and OG Ronald Leary, each with a $9,000 signing bonus.
I was initially surprised that the Cowboys didn't pay Leary more, particularly given the fuss Jerry Jones made about him at the post-draft press conference. In Jerry's words, the Cowboys debated all through the draft whether to take him, but "gambled" that he'd still be there as a UDFA. Unofficially, Leary is considered something like the Cowboys' "eighth pick".
And it looks like the Cowboys found a way to pay him as such.
Brian McIntyre, of the appropriately named Mac's Football Blog, has published details of the contract the Cowboys have agreed with Leary:
The NFL has limitations on how much teams could spend on signing bonuses for undrafted free agents, but there are no limitations on how much guaranteed money a team can offer a player.
That's where Leary's agent, Adisa Bakari of Dow Lohnes Sports & Entertainment, and the Cowboys' assessment of the player come in. Because Leary would have been a mid-round prospect had he been healthy, and because the Cowboys feel he's a player who can make an immediate impact, $205,000 of Leary's $390,000 base salary for the 2012 season is fully guaranteed (skill, injury and cap). The total guarantee of $214,000 is in line with what Leary would have received as a signing bonus if he were the first or second player selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
While the $205,000 are not technically a signing bonus (but Leary will get to keep that money in the unlikely event that the Cowboys do cut him, so it's quite similar), they are a powerful incentive for the player join the Cowboys.
This contract tells us a couple of things. For one thing, we can put Leary down as a lock to make the roster. The second thing is that Jerry Jones has once again found an innovative way to creatively acquire the talent he wants. I've never before heard of guaranteeing part of an UDFAs salary, so that's probably something new that the Cowboys and perhaps some other teams have come up with as they work with the limits the NFL have placed on undrafted rookie signing bonuses.
And the third thing: don't tell John Mara about this. Chances are he'll go running to the league offices again: "Roger! Roger! He's violating my totally subjective interpretation of the spirit of the CBA again! You have to do something completely specious and arbitrary immediately! Jerry Jones is once more spending more money than I and my fellow penny-pinchers are willing to spend!"