If you were to guess who is the Dallas Cowboys most highly-ranked free agent, who would you guess? There might be some sentiment that it’s Terrance Williams. After all, he’s been a starter for a long time and has had productive stretches. But that might be the bias of looking at skill positions more than other positions. It’s easy to see their production through stats like catches, yards, touchdowns and more. Maybe it’s one of the secondary, like Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr, or Barry Church.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys highest-rated free agent around the NFL is a guy who wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the 2016 season and had lost his job to an undrafted free agent. He only got on the field because of injury, but it’s hard to argue with the ranking. Among the Top 50 free agents ranked by PFF, he comes in at #23.
23. Ronald Leary, G, Dallas Cowboys
It’s easy to think of Ronald Leary as a backup lineman, but he was a starting guard who lost his job because Dallas lucked into La’el Collins in freakish circumstances at draft time. With Collins injured this season, Leary stepped back into the starting spot at left guard in Dallas and actually upgraded the unit. Leary didn’t allow a sack all season, but it was his run blocking that was the biggest difference, and he was not an insignificant part of Ezekiel Elliott’s league-leading season running the football.
The Cowboys famously held on to Leary in the 2016 offseason, even when they were tempted to use him as bait to get a veteran quarterback once Tony Romo went down to injury. It’s a good thing they did after La’el Collins went down. There is still a debate about who is the better player between Leary and Collins, and whether they should re-sign Leary and experiment with Collins out at right tackle.
Perhaps more shocking than any other ranking is who PFF puts as the 30th-best free agent on the market.
30. Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Morris Claiborne is an interesting player for teams to evaluate. He was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, then had four years of below-average play before completely turning things around in 2016—only to go down injured for the second half of the season. He has half a season that suggests he can be a legit high-end starter, but that’s it. The improvement in his play for 2016 was incredible, but there is a lot of bad tape before it, and a small sample size within that improvement.
PFF has made the point that they believe Claiborne was playing as a Top 10 cornerback in 2016 before he got hurt. It’s hard to gauge how Claiborne will be perceived on the free agent market given his long history of injuries. His college pedigree and substantially better 2016 season will be weighed against his problems with staying on the field. Even the Cowboys, who have had him all these years, are probably unsure about that equation.
And finally, the last Cowboy ranked in the Top 50 is the solid if unspectacular Barry Church.
34. Barry Church, S, Dallas Cowboys
Barry Church has been a solid player for the Cowboys, especially against the run, but 2016 marked a dramatic uptick in his performance in coverage. Some of that was cutting down on the number of missed tackles—halving his total from 2015 to 2016, in fact—but he also saw more action deeper in coverage, which played more to his strengths.
So BTB, do you agree? Are Leary, Claiborne and Church the Cowboys top free agents, and in that order?