NFL teams are now able to use franchise and transition tags to lock up high-value players that they are having trouble working out long-term deals with. But the Dallas Cowboys are not going to be using a tag this year, according to VP Stephen Jones. And looking forward, the team is not likely to have to resort to either for at least a few more years. And that is a good thing.
Using the tag is not best for either side. The player hates it because they don't have any long-term security. Clubs use it, but it can be prohibitive against them as well.
Last year the Cowboys placed the tag on Dez Bryant, chewing up nearly $13 million in cap room. As a result, they had to restructure Tony Romo's contract -- which they did not want to do -- to fit Hardy's per-game roster bonuses under the cap. It also affected Dallas' dealings with DeMarco Murray.
Another good example of how using a tag can become problematic is the current situation involving Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. The team is expected to tag him with negotiations stalled on a long-term deal. Cousins is a player that Washington needs for the near-term, but it is far from certain just how much he is really worth. The chances are that the team is going to have to overpay him, either for one year or in a costly long-term contract. He is clearly the best option they have at quarterback. But he is hardly proven to be a quarterback that can take them deep in the playoffs.
With the exception of Bryant, the Cowboys have been working on locking up players earlier rather than later. Tony Romo, Tyron Smith, and Tyrone Crawford all have long term contracts in place. And with the ever-increasing cap, those deals look better every year. Dallas made the bet that the cap would continue to jump significantly each year under the current CBA, and so far, that wager has been paying off.
An additional way that fortune has favored the team has been in how the draft has fallen for them recently. In 2013, they traded back and took Travis Frederick at the end of the first round. The next year, they saw the player they wanted, Ryan Shazier, taken just before they went on the clock, and selected Zack Martin instead. Both Frederick and Martin have already gone to Pro Bowls. And as interior offensive linemen, they should receive much more reasonable deals than some other positions might command.
Despite the persistence of the meme of Jerry Jones being a reckless and free-spending owner/general manager, the Cowboys have actually gotten their contract house in very good order. The use of pre-programmed restructures has allowed them to retain what they see as the key components of the roster while still having the ability to go out and sign new pieces as needed, with of course careful judgment of just how much they can spend in free agency.
The Cowboys can free up plenty of money in cap space to do whatever it feels necessary in free agency as well as possibly getting some long-term deals done early. Dead money, which was excessive in recent years, is now under a million dollars, which makes it quite acceptable. The team may have to absorb some more if it decides to part ways with Brandon Carr and his big cap hit, but they have the ability to absorb that.
Not having to use tags, which can lock up over ten million dollars in cap space, is a key element to having that kind of flexibility. The added benefits of not going through a holdout such as Bryant's just add to the argument to avoid them. It is less exciting than arguing about who to take with the fourth pick of the draft, or looking for high-impact free agents to pursue. But it sets the table to get the most out of those avenues. And when you need every ray of hope for the coming season as we do now, it is a good thing, indeed, to not have to resort to a sometimes risky tool.