FRISCO, Texas – It's officially time to start thinking about deals and deadlines.
Tuesday marks the first day that NFL teams can designate franchise and transition players. Now, to be clear, Feb. 20 isn't any type of deadline. From this point, the Cowboys have until March 6 – exactly two weeks to use their franchise tag.
But after six weeks of relative inactivity since the end of the regular season, NFL clubs are finally easing into one of the busier portion of the offseason. And nowhere is that more noteworthy than in Dallas, where the Cowboys have a decision to make regarding DeMarcus Lawrence.
Going back to the Senior Bowl, roughly three weeks ago, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he would prefer that he not have to use the franchise tag on his Pro Bowl defensive end, assuming Lawrence and the team were able to agree on a long-term deal.
"Our first goal is to sign him to a long-term deal obviously," Jones said. "To me, the only reason you use a franchise tag is to hopefully protect yourself if you can't get a long term deal signed that you like. That's normally the route we like to go. Certainly we're going to roll up our sleeves and see if we can do something with DeMarcus without having a franchise tag."
There are still two weeks to make that a reality, but it certainly seems like an optimistic idea. Lawrence is coming off a 14.5-sack season, which saw him finish tied for second in the NFL last season. He is also represented by David Canter, who is the agent responsible for the $85 million contract that Olivier Vernon signed in free agency two years ago.
With that type of money as a possibility on the open market, it looks possible but unlikely the Cowboys and Lawrence agree to a contract in the next 14 days.
Views of Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawernce from his 3 sack night vs the Cardinals at University of Pheonix Stadium, in Glendae Arizona.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, that shouldn't be a hindrance to their offseason goals. The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 6, which would guarantee Lawrence at least a one-year deal worth roughly $17 million guaranteed.
Having said that, using the franchise tag doesn't stop the two sides from negotiating on a multi-year deal. Once the tag is used, NFL teams have until July 16 to continue negotiations. After that deadline, no further contact is allowed until following the 2018 season.
There are plenty of famous precedents for this, one of them happening here in Texas. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Dez Bryant in the weeks following the 2014 season. After a contentious and public back-and-forth, the front office signed Bryant to a five-year, $70 million deal – mere hours before the mid-July deadline.
Negotiations with Lawrence don't look like they'll be remotely as dramatic, if his easy-going attitude is any indicator. The veteran pass rusher has been asked about his contract situation several times since the season ended, and he didn't seem to be sweating the outcome either way.
"Franchise not bad. Contract not bad," Lawrence told reporters during his week at the Pro Bowl in January. "So, like I said, I'm not worrying about nothing. I'll leave it up to my agent. He'll take care of me."
That more or less echoes what Lawrence said back on Dec. 31, right after the Cowboys' season-ending win in Philadelphia. Facing questions about his future, the 25-year-old was realistic about the fact that he's unlikely to leave Dallas in 2018, for one reason or another.
"I know I'm not going anywhere," he said at the time.
"I already know what my situation is. I don't really care about it because I know how the Cowboys feel about me and they know how I feel about the organization. My agent is going to take care of everything, and he knows how everyone feels.
Of course, a long-term deal sounds like a better proposition for everyone. It would give Lawrence more long-term security, and it would keep the Cowboys from having to carry a $17 million charge on their salary cap.
Whether or not that happens will be at least two weeks in the making – if not five months. But after a slow start to the offseason, those types of decisions are looming.