IRVING, Texas – In nearly a month, the free-agent signing period will officially be among us.
Until then, the Cowboys will have some big decisions to make. Some of those decisions will likely be made for them.
Let's break down some of the big things that will or won't occur for the Cowboys here in the next four weeks.
Franchise Tags –Monday marked the first day NFL clubs could designate players with the franchise tag. It will happen here soon enough around the league, but don't expect the Cowboys to become players in this.
Yes, that was also said last year because of salary-cap restrictions and somehow, the Cowboys managed to not only clear enough room to get under the cap, but they also cleared the necessary $10.63 million to give to Anthony Spencer, who was tagged for a second straight year.
Don't expect that to happen for Jason Hatcher, whose price tag will be about $9.2 million if the Cowboys chose to franchise him.
Deciding on Hatcher - Hatcher had a career season in 2013, making his first Pro Bowl with a career-high 11 sacks, the most by any defensive tackle in the NFL.
The unrestricted free agent said he will test the market in mid-March. But as we've seen in the past – even last year, the market might not be as giving to the defensive line position, especially to a tackle who turns 32 before the start of the season and has only had one really big season.
A year ago, the Seahawks got a couple of bargains at defensive end, acquiring Cliff Avril (2-year, $13M) and Michael Bennett (1-year, $4.8M). Obviously those two were hoping to cash in a lot more than that.
Time will tell if the same thing occurs for defensive tackles. But don't rule out the possibility of the market not being as kind to Hatcher and the Cowboys could be willing to offer just as much, if not more, than other teams.
So yes, expect him to test the market. But he's not gone until he's gone.
Spencer for Re-Hire? – One of the reasons players hate the franchise tag is for the scenario that Anthony Spencer had last year. He was hoping for a big payday in what would've likely been his last big contract. Instead, he was tagged again by the franchise tag at $10.63 million. Then he hurts his knee, needs microfracture surgery and at this point, his next contract will probably be somewhere around the league minimum, although there should be some hefty incentives regarding play-time and stats.
Now don't feel too sorry for Spencer, who did pocket $10.63 million. Who's to say he would've made that much at all had he gone through free agency. Michael Bennett put $6.25 million in his pocket last year and Avril got just $3.75 million last season.
So Spencer probably got the better deal even though he's now hurt and is a free agent. The Cowboys must decide what they want to do in terms of re-signing him or letting him test the market. [embedded_ad]
Obviously teams will need to see how he's rehabbing and no team will have a better feel for that than the Cowboys.
Miles/Ware Dilemma – The Cowboys have a couple of free-agent decisions to make, starting with Miles Austin. The wide receiver is not expected to be in the 2014 plans. What the Cowboys need to decide is how they cut Austin. Is he a regular cut or do they designate him a post-June 1 release. The latter move saves the club about $5.5 million on the cap this year, but it means another $5.1 rolls over next year.
If the Cowboys cut Austin now, it'll basically be a wash. Austin would count $7.855 million but was projected to count $8.24 million if he's on the team.
As for Ware, his chances of sticking around seem much better than Austin's. But he'll likely have to do more restructuring with his contract, which calls to pay him $12.25 million this year.
With Ware having elbow surgery this week, he's expected to miss some workouts in the next few months but should be back in time for the summer practices, including OTAs and mini-camps.