Once upon a time getting franchise tagged was something that NFL players loathed.
It makes sense, really. Players want the security of long-term, highly-guaranteed contracts. We can all empathize with that. The franchise tag is a lot of fully-guaranteed money for a one-year deal, but what if something happens in that one year? Is it really worth it?
Such is the conundrum many players who are tagged face. We saw this unfold fairly recently two and a half years ago when the Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before ultimately working out a long-term deal in the eleventh hour.
Interestingly though, the culture around being franchise tagged has shifted ever since Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins welcomed it. Cousins has chosen to see it as a continued risk worth taking, a series of one-year deals that piles up the cash.
It’s hard to say that it hasn’t worked out for Cousins. He keeps getting tagged and is on track to become an NFL player that clears over $100M on his career.
Why does Cousins keep getting tagged, though? As Cowboys fans, we know of Kirk’s inefficiencies, but we’ve also seen him have successes. Therein lies the difficulty, as Kirk Cousins is seemingly just barely enough to be a franchise quarterback, but one of those costs you a lot of long-term money.
Cousins is now at a point, given all the times he’s been tagged, that he won’t accept a deal with Washington that pays him less per year than a given tag would. Why would he? He has turned the franchise tag against his team unlike anyone before him, complicating his future with the Redskins.
The Cowboys could potentially be in a similar situation this next offseason. The NFL’s current sack leader wears a Star on his helmet, and he’s up for a new deal after 2017. DeMarcus Lawrence has shown signs of something special before, but this is the first season in which he’s truly been an absolute defensive force to be reckoned with.
This is a situation that Dallas has faced before actually, coincidentally with another pass rusher. After a 2011 season where he showed signs of promise, Dallas couldn’t get a deal done with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, so they franchise tagged him in order to keep him around.
After a productive 2012, an 11-sack season for Anthony, the Cowboys used the franchise tag on Spencer for the second year in a row (much like the Redskins have with Cousins) to keep that level of production around.
Is this the sort of impasse that’s headed the Cowboys way in terms of DeMarcus Lawrence? It wouldn’t be hard to blame the Cowboys for not ponying up for a huge deal for Lawrence.
He may lead the NFL in sacks currently, but he’s also had a few bumps in the road along the way. Lawrence has led the team in sacks before (2015), but he followed that up by being suspended for the first four games of the following season by violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The situation the Cowboys find themselves in is an ideal one for for the franchise tag. Prior to Kirk Cousins, Lawrence would’ve likely held out, unlike Anthony Spencer. Now? Maybe he’s willing to bet on himself in order to maximize the amount of guaranteed money he can make.
Whatever the case is, the more sacks Lawrence racks up this season, the harder it’ll likely be to negotiate something long-term. It seems like we’re headed for Franchise Tag City, and DeMarcus may be comfortable setting up shop there, at least for a year.