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Does Handling of Franchise Tag Suggest a New Philosophy for the Cowboys?

The franchise tag has become a tool for teams to lock up players seeking a long-term contract. It gives the team a position of power in negotiations as they’re able to hold their ground forcing the player to play on the tag or sit out and not get paid at all. Often, however, teams use it simply as a place holder to prevent other teams from money-whipping a player away.

The Cowboys have used it as the place holder in the past, keeping a player like Dez Bryant from meeting with other teams before getting a deal done on deadline day back in 2015.

Of the 14 players that received the franchise tag in 2020, only two of them signed long-term contracts before the 3 pm central time deadline on July 15th. The two players to get long-term contracts were Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 2019, only six players received the franchise tag.

This is the second time in three seasons that the Dallas Cowboys have allowed one of their top players to make it to July 16th without a new contract. Back in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence was on the franchise tag after a breakout 2017 season. The Cowboys placed the tag on Lawrence in 2018, letting him play on the one-year deal. In the 2019 offseason, the placed the franchise tag on him again before reaching a long-term agreement in April.

And here we are in 2020 and Dak Prescott received the franchise tag and he and the Cowboys were unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The Cowboys and Prescott won’t be able to reach a new deal until the 2020 season is over. Depending on when that is, it could force the two sides to work it out quickly if they want to avoid placing the franchise tag on Prescott again in 2021. That number would be roughly $37 million. As things stand now, the Cowboys would have to clear some cap space in order to figure that guaranteed amount in on the deal.

Now, not all negotiations are the same. They each take a life of their own. However, the DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott negotiations have revealed a bit of a pattern. The Cowboys are willing to risk upsetting a player to keep another year of control in their pocket.

After Lawrence’s franchise year, he signed a four-year deal with the Cowboys that will have him under team control through his prime. Prescott and his representatives have been thinking a four-year deal from the beginning, and the Cowboys were unwilling to go that direction. There’s a strong possibility that even after the franchise year that Dak Prescott receives a four-year contract. Even if the money is more, which would be a win for Prescott, a four-year deal would be a win for the Cowboys, because with the franchise year, they in essence had him for five years of team contractual control.

Barring a breakout year from one of their players set to be a free agent, the Cowboys don’t really have anyone that would demand the high price of the franchise tag. Not until the 2022 offseason when Michael Gallup is scheduled to be a free agent, will the Dallas Cowboys be forced to consider using the franchise tag. If he has a repeat performance of 2019 in 2020 and 2021 it would be incredibly hard for the Cowboys to let him walk away. Even with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb under contract through 2024, the Cowboys could use the tag on Gallup in 2022 and then look to strike a deal in 2023.

COVID-19 could have certainly had an effect on these tag negotiations, but that wasn’t the case in 2018 when Lawrence got his first tag.

Given what we’ve seen with their last two franchise tag negotiations, the Cowboys May have taken a former stance on players under the tag than they had in the past. Perhaps the injuries that Dez Bryant sustained in 2015 that led to some of his issues of decline in 2016 led to a change of heart with how they negotiate players under their first franchise tag. Whatever the reason, the Cowboys and to an extent, the NFL, have approached the franchise tag with a bit more reluctance to signing players to a long-term contract before they play on the tag.

What do you think?

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Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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  1. By having
    Dak play on the franchise tag it gives Dallas the opportunity to let McCarthy to evaluate Dak on his terms. Who’s to say what McCarthy privately thinks of Dak. Add to that, despite all the lip service, Jerry has not shown he is convinced Dak is elite. He’s seen the Rams give Goff a contract that is not in line with production and Bridgewater’s cap friendly deal. Jerry has gone years now with a UDFA and a fourth round pick at QB. He’s a gambler by nature and it’s quite possible he’s looking at the benefit of a QB on a rookie deal or saving $10-15M a year in cap space with a Bridgewater or Dalton throwing to all the talent on the team.

  2. I think there has indeed been a shift in managerial approach.
    Uncertain if the Dez debacle had as much to do with it as the decade long slow but steady transference of power from Jerry to Stephen.
    It has seemed clear in the past 2-3 years that Jerry is more of a spokesman and face of the franchise than actual “final say” owner
    I totally believe Stephen has been running all financial aspects of the team unchecked for 3 years.
    This new approach is in line with what insiders have been saying for quite some time.
    Jerry loves the players, and often erred financially to take care of his favorites, called them family even.
    But Stephen is a real deal business man and looks at the players and coaches as assets, therefore he weighs the bottom line value of each and does not get emotional about them.

  3. Good points Ben but just to clarify are u implying that Jerry might let Dak go after this yr and goes for the the “best available QB” next yr in the draft and starts him right away? Guessing that it’s doubtful the cowboys pick in the top 10 which is hardly a draft position to find an instant starter/ impact QB. (Fields and Lawrence will be long gone by then) Not sure how long Bridgewater was signed for, so unclear when or whether that would be an option at all. Or do we let Dak walk (without compensation) sign Dalton to a reasonable 2 yr deal after this yr while a young QB on the roster develops? Hopefully the Cowboys have a plan, but for the the life of me don’t know what it is. (they may not even know what it is) I agree with the McCarthy wanting to see Dak up close for himself angle, makes sense. But if he really likes what he sees then what? Dak contract demands will go way up next yr also he Would make nearly 38 million (a nice sum) if franchise tagged next yr. which means that there is little incentive to sign with the cowboys, as he can just leave in 2 yrs and hit the open market, where he can practically name his price. Or the cowboys may franchise tag him again next yr and approach this as a 2 yr contract which gives us a 2 yr window. So many possible scenarios! The one thing I think might change all this is if Dak makes a big leap and the team has a great yr (like gets to the super bowl) yr and he likes the direction the team is headed and wants to stay with a talented proven commodity ( the cowboys) where he is firmly entrenched, versus the uncertainty of starting all over with a possibly bad team. One thing is certain if the cowboys do sign Dak to a long term contract ( which most guys in here think would be a mistake) they are gonna have to pony up a lot of money to do it. Of all scenarios mentioned above which one seems like the most likely/desirable?

  4. These may have been the smartest comments i have ever seen from fellow cowboy fans. Glad there are some out there still. Look at cowboys drafts the last 5 years which shows a change in power and thinking. Will McClay and Stephen Jones are making these decisions.

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