FRISCO, Texas – Just when you thought you had the offseason storylines nailed down, the narrative gets twisted.
It's been said for months: with the NFL entering the final year of its Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs have both the franchise and transition tags available to them. That's an important designation for the Cowboys, who have several key players coming up on free agency next month.
That could all change in the next week, though. NFL owners agreed to the terms of a potential new CBA on Thursday afternoon, thereby sending the issue to the leaguer's players and their representatives.
To be clear, nothing has been approved yet. The NFL's 32 player representatives must approve the terms by a two-thirds majority, and from there it would go to the full league, where it would need to pass a simple majority.
There are still several hurdles to clear, but it could signal several big changes to the league landscape.
The biggest and most notable are changes to the league schedule and playoff format. The proposed CBA that NFL ownership approved calls for expanding the playoff field to 14 teams, admitting seven teams from each conference and awarding a bye week only to the No. 1 seeds.
It also allows for the NFL to expand its schedule by reducing the preseason to just three games and turning that fourth preseason game into a 17th regular season game.
That's all in the big picture, though. Let's bring this back to the here and now with the Dallas Cowboys.
If a new CBA is approved before the start of the new league year on March 18, it would be a drastic curveball for the Cowboys' offseason plans.
Between Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Byron Jones, they currently employ three impending free agents who figure to command massive salaries. Prescott has been negotiating for a new contract since last summer, and the plan all along has been to use the franchise tag on him if the two sides can't reach an agreement before the start of free agency.
That part hasn't changed. Starting Feb. 25, NFL clubs can place the franchise tag and/or transition tag on designated players, and they have until March 10 to use it.
The problem is with the transition tag, which can no longer be used if a new CBA is put in place. The provisions of the current CBA state that both tags may only be used in the final year of the deal.
It has long been assumed the Cowboys would use the transition tag to prevent Cooper from hitting free agency. Those contract negotiations have been talked about since last offseason, but the conversation doesn't seem to have gotten very far.
This all leads to an obvious conclusion. If the Cowboys can't reach an agreement with Prescott in the coming weeks, they'll need to use the franchise tag to keep him in place. If a new CBA is agreed to while Prescott is tagged, the Cowboys will have no choice but to let Cooper hit free agency.
Ironically, Byron Jones is one of the 32 NFL player reps who is voting on the proposed CBA. So it's not a stretch to say that one of the Cowboys' own free agents may help decide the fate of the others.
It's obviously all a bit premature. The proposal still has to be approved by the players, who assuredly have their own questions and concerns. But a new CBA could drastically alter what the Cowboys are capable of accomplishing with their most important free agents.
That's enough to make the next month of negotiations feel more urgent than ever.