He knew it was likely his final game with the Dallas Cowboys.
Leary, a guard, is set to be a free agent in March and could command a significant contract on the open market. The Cowboys have signed Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick to mega-extensions in two of the last three offseasons and would like to do the same this summer with right guard Zack Martin.
“I thought about it a lot after the game,” Leary said. “I kind of stayed on the field a little bit because I’ve been here the last five years of my life. That’s just as long as you’re in college, so I’ve grown close to a lot of players here, a lot of staff. It’s tough to think about, because you don’t know the future when you hit the market like that. It’s tough, but it’s part of the game.”
The New York Jets might have helped establish the market for interior offensive lineman by signing Brian Winters to a four-year extension worth $29 million that included $15 million in guarantees earlier this week. Winters has not started a full season in his career and suffered a torn rotator cuff in Week 15.
The Cowboys signed Leary as an undrafted rookie in 2012 despite a knee condition that made him too risky to draft. After spending the 2012 season on the practice squad, Leary started 47 games from 2013 to 2016, losing his job to La'el Collins in 2015.
When Collins suffered a toe injury in Week 3 this season, Leary took over and started the rest of the way, sitting out the meaningless regular-season finale because of a sore back.
Leary asked for a trade last spring when the Cowboys put the second-round tender on him as a restricted free agent. The New Orleans Saints showed interest, but the Cowboys wanted to keep Leary in case of injury, and with what happened to Collins, their prudence was rewarded. Leary did not take part in the offseason program, but he was at the mandatory minicamp and training camp.
He won’t rule out a return to the Cowboys, but he understands the team has made big commitments to the other offensive linemen and can’t pay everybody.
“I’m going to have to sit down with my agent and everybody with my team, put everything right there in front of me and try to go from there,” Leary said.
Collins is close to 100 percent after undergoing toe surgery in October and will be ready to re-assume the left guard spot. The Cowboys signed Jonathan Cooper before the playoffs began and liked what he did in their short time on the roster. He is set to be a free agent as well, but the Cowboys hope to entice him to remain if they can’t keep Leary.