IRVING, Texas – It's been suspected for some time now, but the Cowboys confirmed this weekend that they'll be using the franchise tag on Dez Bryant by the March 2 deadline.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones confirmed that the team will tag Bryant by 3 p.m. on Monday, which is the deadline for all NFL clubs to use the designation.
The deal, which will net Bryant roughly $13 million for the 2015 season, accomplishes two goals for the Cowboys. Firstly, it will keep Bryant off the free agent market, which opens next week on March 10 – a priority for the front office if no long-term contract could be reached.
"We've worked hard to do a long-term deal with him and we'll continue to work hard at it," Jones said at the NFL Combine. "If we don't get one, then it just shows him how much we care about him – we don't want to expose him."
Secondly, the franchise tag allows the Cowboys to continue working on a long-term deal for several more months. Though the franchise tag offers Bryant a guarantee of $13 million, NFL rules also stipulate that the two sides can continue working on a long-term contract until July 15, when they must cut off negotiations until after the season.
That fact wasn't lost on Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones when he described the franchise tag as a "placeholder" last week. As much as Bryant might want a long-term deal, it would also be easier on the Cowboys' finances to spread his cap hit out over several years – as opposed to one $13 million sum.
"There's a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn't franchise, but this is here when you don't have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term," Jerry Jones said. "And so if anything it's in the right situation, it's a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future."
Bryant will become the fourth Cowboys player to hit with the franchise tag, joining offensive tackle Flozell Adams, safety Ken Hamlin and defensive end Anthony Spencer – who was tagged in both 2012 and 2013.
Hamlin was the only one of those four players to sign a new deal before the start of the next season.
It remains to be seen how negotiations will play out with Bryant, but the decision also affects the Cowboys' other high-profile free agent – DeMarco Murray. By tagging Bryant, the Cowboys have all but assured that Murray will hit the free agency market next Tuesday.
In the same 90-minute interview last weekend, Jerry Jones said he had a range in mind for what he'd be willing to pay Murray, who led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,845 last year. Whether that's enough to bring the two-time Pro Bowler is the question.
Stephen Jones said Murray will likely have to make a business decision about whether to stay with the Cowboys or agree to a contract elsewhere.
"There are a lot of things we have to evaluate before we make the ultimate decision as to how what our number is going to be with DeMarco versus what some others' number may be," he said. "At some point he'll have to make a business decision, which no one will respect more than us."