Monday, Feb. 20, marks the beginning of the NFL's window for teams to apply the franchise tag to any of their soon-to-be free agents.
Clubs have until the close of the league business day on March 5 to make their determination. If used on a player, the franchise tag guarantees him the average of the five highest-paid players at his position or a 120 percent raise from the previous season, whichever is greater.
For the Cowboys, the only serious possibility for the label would be outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who would then be guaranteed a little over $8.8 million for 2012. Recently, the team has acknowledged it has considered using the tag on Spencer.
Franchising a player allows the team to protect his rights or entitles them to two first-round picks if another club signs the player to an offer sheet his original team does not match.
After franchising a player, the team can still negotiate a long-term contract with him, or trade him to another team for less than the two first-rounders.
Clubs have the alternative option of doling out the transition tag, which guarantees a player the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, but doesn't come attached to draft-pick compensation if the player signs an offer sheet elsewhere.
The Cowboys haven't used the franchise tag since 2008, when it went to safety Ken Hamlin, who later negotiated an extension.