It's nearly September and neither Logan Ryan nor Earl Thomas have a job, as wild as that may be to consider. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic mostly halted free agency by not allowing players to work out for clubs until just ahead of training camp, and it's a key reason Ryan remains on the market. Thomas, however, has had a much different offseason -- a tumultuous one with the Baltimore Ravens that saw him jettisoned in late July. Still considered a top talent at the position though, it stands the reason he'd again have the interest of the Cowboys, especially after failing to acquire Jamal Adams from a New York Jets organization .
The club has since confirmed CBS Sports' report they were looking into Thomas, but which player should they do their best to acquire?
After failing to convince the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 to send Thomas home to North Texas in exchange for a first-round pick, and then failing to meet his exorbitant salary demands in free agency -- losing out to the Ravens in the process -- the Cowboys aren't afraid to at least discuss the possibility of adding Thomas. The problem is baggage, and the All-Pro has more than what will fit in the overhead compartment on his flight to Dallas. As more and more information pours out of what turned out to be an exceedingly toxic one-year relationship with the Ravens, the seven-time Pro Bowler suddenly , especially considering it was his teammates in Baltimore who voted him out.
Enter Mike McCarthy, a proven and steadfast head coach who values roster chemistry probably more than he ever has in his career, when you consider how things ended with the Green Bay Packers. With so much on the line in Year 1 in Dallas, and already battling complications such as the pandemic and all that comes with it -- i.e., no April 6 program start, no minicamp, abbreviated padded practices in training camp and no preseason games -- McCarthy isn't so keen on inserting a potential disruption into his shiny new locker room.
This is why the Cowboys have yet to reach out to Thomas formally as of Monday, sources tell CBS Sports, but are instead still simply "talking about it" at the moment (still).
If it were unanimous, the call would've already been made, seeing as Thomas has now been a free agent for more than a week. It isn't though, and may never be, but a separate source tells CBS Sports the Cowboys will "unequivocally not" veto McCarthy's concerns regarding Thomas and the locker room. So if the three-time All-Pro is to play for the Cowboys, it'll have to be with McCarthy's blessing -- something he doesn't yet have and may never receive.
There's also the matter of potential decline in the future Hall of Famer, who is also just one season removed from highly-prioritized durability issues. Granted, Thomas grabbed two interceptions in 2019, but he went 14 regular season games and a postseason contest without doing so, and his 49 combined tackles were 39 fewer than his 2017 season in Seattle, despite logging one more start this past season. His numbers in 2019 were more comparable to a 2016 season that saw him miss five games with injury, ending that year with 48 combined tackles along with two interceptions. So while it's fair to assume Thomas still has tread on the tires, the depth of said tread has to be a question, and the Cowboys must then quantify that against the risk of a locker room rift.
For a player on the wrong side of 30, who's been on injured reserve twice in the past four seasons, is producing a rate comparable to a year in which he missed 31.3 percent of the season, and who was just released one year into a megadeal after shrugging off meetings and throwing hands at a teammate -- it's not the most attractive look.
And, for the money, Ryan would likely be better bang for the buck.
For while Thomas would be an upgrade at safety, so would Ryan, but the latter can also flex as an impact cornerback in a secondary seeking to solidify roles in the post-Byron Jones era. The ability to move around is tantalizing for someone like McCarthy to consider, who already made it known that's an attribute he's keying in on in training camp. Just look at Ryan's numbers when weighed against more notable safeties in the league, from a memo his representation sent to all 32 NFL GMs to prove he's dominant at the third level as well.
Free agent Logan Ryan views himself as a safety, rather than the cornerback he’s generally listed as. To that end, his agent emailed all 32 GMs these top safety stats and asked them to compare his production. An interesting discussion to be sure as one of the top FAs looms. pic.twitter.com/NZni6BYmND— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 10, 2020
"Numbers don't lie," Ryan said in reply to the above grid.
A recent video of the two-time Super Bowl champion (one more than Thomas), shows he's also in great physical form.
All told, while Ryan has also had his fair share of injury battles, he's missed no more only three regular season games in his entire seven-year career. That goes to his availability and ability to fight through pain to stay on the field, and he's producing when he does. In 2019, Ryan doubled Thomas' interception count, delivered 2.5 sacks more than his more controversial counterpart, and racked up a whopping 64 more combined tackles with only one more start.
He's also two years younger than Thomas and, as a matter of fact, Ryan's first seven seasons in the league aren't far from the resume Thomas has built. Thomas has 22 more starts in that span, but only six more interceptions, one more sack and 26 more combined tackles. Contrarily, with 22 fewer starts than Thomas in his first seven campaigns, Ryan has 11 more sacks, 22 more pass break ups, five more tackles for loss, and 14 more hits on the opposing quarterback.
That said, it's impossible to justifiably herald Thomas as a future Hall of Famer (he is, by the way) but to wave off Ryan as a potentially better option for the Cowboys at this point in the two their careers. The club would likely have to pay more for the latter, but it's worth it, when considering his production, his career arc, the length of time remaining in said career, the personnel [flex] fit and the fact McCarthy wouldn't have concerns over how he'll fit into a locker room that's potentially on the verge of something special. And when it comes to price, the Cowboys created some room for themselves to allow for what could be a more pricier -- but still enticing -- contract offer to Ryan.
They freed up $3.25 million with the release of an injured Gerald McCoy, and another $7.1 million after converting $8.9 million of Tyron Smith's 2020 salary to a signing bonus. As it stands, the team has approximately $14.85 million in cap space, per Overthecap.com (the floor being $13 million in space, via Spotrac), and that's plenty to add Ryan and still have cushion for mid-season acquisition(s) and/or rolling over space into 2021; a goal they want to achieve to help in revisited talks with Dak Prescott.
Lastly, Ryan recently, who's done a good bit of business with the Cowboys before, including recently as the guy who negotiated Amari Cooper's five-year, $100 million contract -- with zero fuss on either side.
In attempting to gauge the team's level of interest in Ryan, I reached out to two sources who characterized it to CBS Sports as a proverbial green light, with one noting "they've floated the idea," and the other commenting "it wouldn't shock me at all.''
This is a readymade win for the Cowboys, who are seeing Darian Thompson beat out HaHa Clinton-Dix in training camp and got an injury scare on Xavier Woods in Sunday's practice at AT&T Stadium (groin strain, not considered serious, per sources). Be it an obvious upgrade or the insurance the move would provide, the money is there to land Ryan on a one- or two-year deal, and he provides a lot of what Thomas doesn't -- including peace of mind in the locker room.
It's possible neither land in Dallas, but if you're going after a safety, one of these isn't like the other.