Travis Frederick retires from NFL: Cowboys have ready-made options to replace the All-Pro center in 2020

Nobody saw it coming, and that includes Travis Frederick. When the five-time Pro Bowl center announced on Monday he'd be retiring from the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys were as thrown aback as they were respectful of his decision. After all, Frederick was able to defeat the odds and return to football just one year after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome -- a condition that causes the body's antibodies to attack nerve cells. The illness can be fatal if not caught quickly and treated appropriately, so to see Frederick not only regain his health but to also return to football and then perform at a Pro Bowl level was a miraculous feat.

The retirement of Frederick will gain the Cowboys money toward their cap ($935,000 as a pre-June 1 designation and $7 million as a post-June 1), but it's money that is neither needed nor cared about within the organization when speaking about a player of Frederick's caliber and character. 

Next, the Cowboys must figure out how to replace the perennial All-Pro, and that won't be easy. They'll have time to recover from the news -- given it was received in March -- and they already have a contingency plan in place. When the club re-signed backup interior lineman Joe Looney this offseason, it was a move mostly overlooked because it lacked the pomp and circumstance of a first-wave free agent signing, but his retention matters now more than ever.

It was Looney who found himself thrust in the role of starting center when Frederick was forced to the sideline in 2018, and he didn't simply play admirably -- he played very well. Looney started every game that season and hasn't missed one since 2015, proving himself as durable as he is effective. 

The Cowboys were able to keep him in Dallas thanks to a clause in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows them to pay him more money while lessening their cap hit in the process, and that's what ultimately prevented him walking away to Jason Garrett and Marc Colombo, his former coaches who now take up residence with the New York Giants and actively recruited Looney this offseason. The problem for Dallas is Looney is under a one-year deal only, worth $2.437 million, making for a great financial situation for the Cowboys but also relegating the 29-year-old to duty as a stopgap for now.

To that end, they'll lean heavily on trying to develop second-year interior lineman Connor McGovern, the team's third-round pick in 2019 they admittedly could not pass up on. McGovern red-shirted his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered prior to the start of the season, but is someone the Cowboys believe can be a starter at the NFL level on the interior offensive line. The rapid ramping up of McGovern will be key in 2020, but considering he logged 14 starts at center in his time at Penn State, it's safe to say he's the future at the position, assuming he remains healthy.

To bolster the absence of Xavier Su'a-Filo -- who left in free agency for the Cincinnati Bengals -- and the likely move of McGovern to center, the team would be warranted in reuniting with veteran guard Ronald Leary. Leary was recently released by the Denver Broncos and has expressed interest in returning to Dallas, and his presence would both shore up the position left of center as well as provide insurance for third-year talent Connor Williams, who himself is returning from injured reserve. 

The Cowboys would love to have Frederick going forward, needless to say, but they're far from desperate in trying to ward off the need to use a premium pick at the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. They simply don't have to, thanks to Looney and possibly McGovern, as Frederick being sidelined in 2018 forced them to plan for both the present and the future.

And so they have, wisely.

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