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With DeMarcus Lawrence tagged, it complicates Cowboys free agency expectations

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The Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence, making the thought of reeling in a big fish in free agency unlikely.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When the news broke of the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence, it wasn’t unexpected by any means. The franchise tag is pretty much in place for players like Lawrence. Players that for one reason or another haven’t reached their potential, then blow up in one season as Lawrence did with 14.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in 2017. By placing the tag on Lawrence, the Cowboys will have until July 15th to work out an extension or they will pay him a little over $17 million for the 2018 season.

Lawrence has signed his tender and the Cowboys are on the hook for the $17+ million as it goes immediately on the cap. (That would have happened even if he didn’t sign it). The NFL salary cap is set at $177.2 million according to Mike Garafolo, which leaves Dallas pretty strapped with only $17 million under the cap as of right now, which Lawrence will eat up.

The Cowboys will also need to tender David Irving which is approximately $4.3 million for a first-round tender and about $3 million for a second-rounder.

To play in free agency, the Cowboys will need some money. Todd Archer lays out some moves.

The Cowboys will restructure the contract of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, which could open up around $7.2 million in room. They could get $3 million in room on restructuring the contract of linebacker Sean Lee. Signing Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to a long-term deal could open as much as $6 million in room with him slated to count $9.3 million on the fifth-year option.

The Cowboys have restructured the contract of Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith from 2015-17 but would not like to do it again in 2018. If they need the space, they could gain up to $7.2 million on the reworking of his deal as well.

The Cowboys could also look to gain room from releasing players like Dez Bryant, Orlando Scandrick, Benson Mayowa and James Hanna, which could gain them up to $20 million in room.

Now that we got all the math out of the way, where does all this leave the Cowboys in terms of free agency? Well, we’re smart enough around BTB to know that spending heavily in free agency is just not part of this organization’s philosophy. Besides, by the time the Cowboys work out deals for Martin and Lawrence, free agency could be a distant memory.

Instead, expect it to be another quiet offseason this spring as the Cowboys go bottom-fishing again for a couple of veterans on the cheap. As much posturing that Stephen Jones has been doing regarding Dez Bryant, the two sides need to work that out because replacement options are not looking good. Jarvis Landry was tagged and other high profile guys will be expensive. The best the Cowboys could hope for is that new position coach Sanjay Lal can lure Donte Moncrief on a one-year prove-it deal.

When it comes to possibly splash spending on one free agent as all the front page writers experimented with last week, it’s hard to envision the Cowboys affording most of the players we listed. The Cowboys have often tried to cover their holes with low-tier free agents but they haven’t had much luck in recent memory.

Fans are quick to point out what the Eagles were able to do with mid- to low-tier free agent signings this past season. However, it’s easier said than done as the Cowboys watched every single free agent signing from a year ago be released from the team prior to week eight. The Cowboys follow their guidelines to not overpaying free agents to the nth degree. That’s why guys like Chris Long choose Philadelphia because Dallas isn’t interested in the least bit in bidding wars, especially for guys past their prime.

Reading articles like this aren’t exciting for the folks out there wanting the Cowboys to rescue Earl Thomas from Seattle or even make a trade for Jarvis Landry from the Dolphins. That’s all good fodder for the offseason but it’s highly unlikely any of those types of moves are executed this offseason. As much as we would all love this team to be aggressive, follow the money and you can see that at least for this season, it’s likely to be more of the same. Let’s just hope the Cowboys are a little better at bargain shopping this season.