The NFL franchise tag has been adding interesting wrinkles to teams' offseasons since 1993. The Dallas Cowboys, despite a bevy of 2017 free agents, almost surely won't be using the franchise tag this year.
While the Cowboys do have close to 20 players with expiring contracts, only a few even merit a conversation about the franchise tag. Upon closer examination, we'll see that none of them would justify that high salary and cap hit that would come with the tag.
Before we get to those 2017 free agents, though, let's briefly look at the Cowboys' recent history with the franchise tag.
Cowboys Franchise Tag History
The Cowboys have only franchised players four times over the last ten seasons. Two of those times were just as a placeholder while a long-term deal was negotiated that same offseason; safety Ken Hamlin in 2008 and receiver Dez Bryant in 2015.
Pass-rusher Anthony Spencer is the only Cowboy to actually play under the franchise tag in the last decade. He did it twice in 2012 and 2013. Spencer once admitted that he didn't give max effort when he wasn't facing free agency, so the Cowboys left him in a perpetual "contract year" state for three seasons.
The Cowboys have generally not had problems re-signing the players they want. This isn't Cleveland; Dallas doesn't have to worry about players being desperate to flee for better cities or organizations. Jerry Jones also has a history of taking care of his players, sometimes even to a fault. That's why you haven't seen Dallas use the franchise tag much.
2017 Franchise Tag Options
As already stated, I don't think there's any player Dallas would use the franchise tag on this year. Here are the few players who I'd even have the discussion about, along with last year's franchise tag amount for their position. The amounts in 2017 are not yet decided but should be roughly the same.
Barry Church, S ($10.8 million)
While a solid player and tackling machine, Church has never performed to the level of the NFL's great safeties. He counted just $4.75 million against the salary cap in 2016, so the franchise tag would more than double his cost.
If the Cowboys were flushed with cap space this year then you might consider it. They could retain Church on a one-year deal while working on finding an eventual replacement, perhaps allowing Kavon Frazier to develop and show what he could offer.
Morris Claiborne, CB ($13.9 million)
If Claiborne had played all of 2016 at the level he was showing in September, Dallas just might have considered this move. Unfortunately for Mo, yet another injury cost him nine games and robbed him of the chance to dramatically increase his market value.
For an injury-prone player like Claiborne, getting the franchise tag would be a godsend. He could get an immediate payday that might exceed anything he could get with a long-term deal. Claiborne might not even want to negotiate, knowing his history makes guaranteed money hard to come by.
There's no denying that the Cowboys need cornerback help and Claiborne is one of the most talented guys out there. Still, there's no way Dallas would lock up so much cap space in a guy who might not play half the season.
Ronald Leary, G ($13.7 million)
Last year Dallas kept Leary using a second-round Restricted Free Agent tender of about $2.6 million. It proved to be a bargain; Ronald started 12 games after La'el Collins was lost to a foot injury. The offensive line didn't miss a step with Leary and some have argued he was even more effective than the young, albeit talented, Collins.
Now an unrestricted free agent, Ronald Leary is justifiably looking to get paid. He has been a starting left guard for two of the last three NFL rushing leaders. However, the franchise tag rules make it highly disadvantageous to use it on a guard or center.
The franchise tag amount applies to all offensive linemen regardless of position. That means the bloated salaries of left tackles, who get paid like wide receivers and cornerbacks, bump the number up for everyone.
Even the best guards in the NFL only make about $10-12 million per year. With La'el Collins ready to resume starting duties in 2017, there's no chance that they would pay Ronald Leary $13 million to stick around. Even if there is a drop-off going back to Collins, it's not enough to justify the expense.
Terrell McClain, DT ($13.7 million)
After two injury-plagued seasons, McClain finally emerged as a standout for the Cowboys defensive line. Early in 2016 he was arguably their best player up front. However, the emergence of younger players later in the year has made McClain expendable.
Maliek Collins and David Irving both blossomed as the season went along and figure to have major roles going forward. Dallas also still has veterans Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton under contract and counting a combined $14.6 million against the salary cap. With those guys already getting overpaid, there's no way Dallas could afford to pay Terrell McClain the franchise tag.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap
It's been just a week since NFL free agents could begin negotiating with other teams, but it feels like a lifetime for anxious Cowboys fans. Dallas' seemingly passive approach to 2019 free agency has left many disappointed. Still, there are some moves to recap.
As has become their strategy in recent years, the Cowboys have focused on filling up their depth chart and trying to avoid any glaring holes prior to next month's draft. They've re-signed several backups and added at least one likely rotation player.
It's still far too early to judge Dallas' activity. Comparing the 2019 roster to last year will depend heavily on the draft, growth from current players, and other factors. But with the "second wave" of free agency upon us, it's a good time to look at who's come, gone, and stuck around so far.
- TE Jason Witten (unretired)
- TE Codey McElroy (Rams)
- DT Christian Covington (Texans)
The biggest addition so far this offseason wasn't even a free agent, at least not in the purest sense of the term. Jason Witten's surprising return from retirement helped shore up one of Dallas' biggest needs, though it may not preclude them from drafting a tight end high in April.
Also at tight end, Dallas signed developmental project Codey McElroy. His experience is in baseball and basketball, having played just one year of college football. But at 6'6'" and 255 lbs., and having spent last year working with the Rams, the Cowboys must see something they're intrigued by.
Last week Dallas signed Christian Covington, who had 3.5 sacks for Houston in 2018 playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He should move to DT in the Cowboys' scheme and should be a solid addition to their rotation.
- WR Cole Beasley (Bills)
- TE Geoff Swaim (Jaguars)
- DL David Irving (shenanigans)
- LB Damien Wilson (Chiefs)
Beasley is heading to Buffalo on a four-year, $29 million deal. It appeared the relationship soured between Cole and Dallas over his playing time last year, and clearly the Cowboys didn't fight hard to keep him.
Damien Wilson followed Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City to help round out their linebacker corps. Once it was announced that Dallas was hanging on to Sean Lee in 2019, it was fairly certain that Wilson wouldn't be back.
Also not expected back was TE Geoff Swaim, who signed with Jacksonville. Even before Witten came back, Dallas appeared likely to stick with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz for returning talent and then add an upgrade via free agency or the draft.
While still a free agent, nobody expects David Irving back in Dallas or even the NFL after recent activities. Irving appears focused on a Hollywood career and advocating for medical marijuana use at this point.
- FB Jamize Olawale
- WR Tavon Austin
- WR Allen Hurns (team option)
- OT Cam Fleming
- G/C Joe Looney (team option)
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence (franchise tag)
- DT Daniel Ross (ERFA)
- LB Justin March-Lillard
- S Darian Thompson
While Dallas put the franchise tag on prized pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, his return in 2019 is far from settled. Lawrence has previously sworn he wouldn't play under a second franchise tag this year, and last we heard the two sides are far apart on a long-term deal. Could a holdout be on the horizon?
The Cowboys doubled-down on WR depth by re-signing Tavon Austin and exercising their team option on Allen Hurns' contract. Both are able to play out of the slot, meaning we could see more of a rotation approach to replacing Cole Beasley next year.
Dallas also re-signed fullback Jamize Olawale, which was a surprise given his low usage rate last year. Perhaps the change to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator was behind this one, hoping to take better advantage of Olawale's receiving skills going forward.
Joe Looney and Cam Fleming will also be back as valuable backups on the offensive line. Looney started 16 games last year at center and also helps at guard, while Fleming will be the swing tackle once again for his second season in Dallas.
On defense, Dallas kept Daniel Ross in their DT rotation after solid performance in 2018. Justin March-Lillard return at linebacker, particularly for his value on special teams. And Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick by the Giants, is back as an ongoing developmental player.
~ ~ ~
If this is any indication, next week's recap may have a lot more to discuss.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Clayton Geathers Today
The Cowboys appear to be waking up in 2019 free agency. After a report earlier that they're meeting with WR Randall Cobb, now they're also visiting with Safety Clayton Geathers. He's spent the last four years with the Indianapolis Colts and was a starter and team captain in 2018.
Geathers missed four games last season with a neck injury but still had 89 tackles on the year. He has yet to get an interception since entering the league in 2015, but hasn't been a full-time starter for much of that time.
Free agent S Clayton Geathers is visiting the Cowboys today, per source. He was a team captain for the Colts last season, starting 12 games and recording 89 tackles.
At 6'2" and 220 lbs., Geathers is every bit of a strong safety. He is likely being considered to compete with Jeff Heath for the starting role and otherwise provide depth.
Clayton's rookie contract expired this year, making him available as a free agent. He turns 27 in June and was a fourth-round pick in 2015.
This is still just a visit and a signing is hardly guaranteed. But at the least, the Cowboys seem to be becoming far more active in this second wave of free agency.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent WR Randall Cobb Today
The Dallas Cowboys are hosting free agent Receiver Randall Cobb today at The Star, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Cobb has spent all eight of his NFL season thus far with the Green Bay Packers.
After losing Cole Beasley to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, and with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup entrenched as starters, Dallas must be considering Cobb to help them at slot receiver.
The Cowboys are hosting free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb at The Star today, according to a source. With the departure of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys are looking for help at slot receiver and Cobb can also play on the outside. In eight years in Green Bay, he had 470 catches...
This move is a bit surprising after Dallas chose to keep both Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns from last year. Both veterans are capable of playing out of the slot, as is Amari Cooper.
Cobb, however, may bring more upside. He's struggled injuries lately but was a key part of the Packers' offense for several years. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2014 with nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Turning 29 in August, Randall's contract expired in Green Bay and he remains a free agent. The Cowboys are likely hoping to replace Cole Beasley's skill set at a discounted price.
It's been a slow free agency period for Dallas thus far, and Randall Cobb wouldn't be a glamorous addition. However, any activity would make anxious Cowboys fans happy at this point.
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