FRISCO, Texas – For the past two years, the Cowboys had the NFL's most high-profile franchise tag decision involving quarterback Dak Prescott.
That won't be the case this offseason now that Prescott has three years left on a franchise-record $160 million deal signed last March. But could the Cowboys tag another player between now and the March 8 deadline?
With 22 players set for unrestricted free agency next month, it's an option worth considering because the tag retains exclusive negotiating rights with one player through the mid-July deadline.
If no long-term deal is reached by then, the tagged player would play out the 2022 season on the one-year guaranteed deal.
But the Cowboys also have work to do just to get under the salary cap (reportedly set at $208 million) by the March 16 start of the new league year. Slotting a one-year franchise tag (the average of the top-five salaries at a player's respective position) or transition tag (an average of the top-10 salaries) might not be ideal.
The Cowboys did so twice with Prescott, who actually played the 2020 season on a one-year, $31.4 million deal before signing his record four-year deal last March. Prior to Prescott, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2015 and got a long-term deal done just before the July 15 deadline that year.
So the club has been willing to exercise the tag in the past, but it's uncertain if that will be the case this year.
Many of the 20-plus free-agents-to-be are key starters such as defensive end Randy Gregory, tight end Dalton Schultz and safety Jayron Kearse. Could they be tag candidates? All could secure nice paydays on the free-agent market in March. It's logical that the Cowboys would like to re-sign all of them, and Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said at the Senior Bowl that he's already visited with Gregory's agent and hopeful for a deal.
But again, the cap figures to be tight this year. The goal, as the Cowboys did with Prescott, would be a multi-year contract that allows the club to spread out the cap numbers. As mentioned above, a one-year tag would be challenging to slot: roughly $20 million at defensive end, $11 million at tight end, $13 million at safety.
The Cowboys have a few weeks to think about the tag -- just one of many offseason roster decisions that have to be made.