The Dallas Cowboys placed their franchise tag on free agent defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as expected and he wasted no time signing it.
His agent David Canter tweeted out congratulations to Lawrence late Monday evening for signing the tage. "This is just the beginning," he added.
The deadline to place franchise tag on players was 3 p.m. Tuesday. The Cowboys submitted their paperwork Monday.
They made no headway on a long-term deal following conversations with Canter at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis over the weekend, according to sources.
With no deal, the plan all along was to tag Lawrence while continuing to work on a long-term deal, ensuring that he will be with the Cowboys in 2018 one way or another following his breakout season with 14.5 sacks in 2017.
Vice president Stephen Jones said as much and owner Jerry Jones confirmed that the team was comfortable with paying Lawrence the tag number of $17.143 million in 2018.
“We won’t let D-Law not be a Dallas Cowboy next year,” Stephen Jones said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We’ll do everything we can to try to make something work, and if we don’t get it done then we’ll franchise him. Then we’ll go back to work.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked about the team's approach to Lawrence on Saturday.
"There are advantages that the franchise tag gives you," Jerry Jones said. "It creates some leverage to get a long-term deal done. You certainly have some ambiguity as a player when you have a one-year deal. You have it as a club, too. But you can read some tea leaves during that year. I'm satisfied at where the numbers are, both Lawrence and the Cowboys are getting value here. I see it both ways. But it's an acceptable value for the Cowboys as well to be able to do a one-year deal."
The Cowboys have until July 16 to sign Lawrence to a long-term deal in an effort to lower his 2018 cap hit.
With roughly $17 million in cap room on the 2018 cap of a little more than $177 million, Lawrence's number gives the Cowboys limited flexibility in free agency. The plan to put first- or second-round tender on defensive tackle David Irving will eat up another $3 million, at least.
The Cowboys will have to restructure contracts to create room. Center Travis Fredericks is a prime target. They already have a plan in place to ask receiver Dez Bryant to take a pay cut from his $12.5 base salary.
They also plan to get more room to hopefully come to terms with guard Zack Martin on a long-term contract extension. It is one of their primary focuses of the off-season and, according to a source, the Cowboys would like to get a deal done with Martin before the start of free agency on March 14.
As of now, Martin has a 2018 cap hit of $9.3 million. A contract extension would lower that number, but it won't be cheap.
Martin, a three-time Pro Bowler, is looking for a deal that will make him the highest paid guard in the league and the highest paid player on the Cowboys.
Left tackle Tyron Smith is the midst of an eight-year, $97,600,000 contract with an average annual salary of $12,200,000.
Kevin Zeitler of the Cleveland Browns tops all guards in the NFL with a five-year, $60 million that included a $12 million signing bonus, $31.5 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $12 million.
The Cowboys would prefer to get cap room by extending Martin to a long-term deal even if it breaks the bank rather than having to turn to contract restructures for aging tight end Jason Witten and linebacker Sean Lee and add more dead money at the end of their deals.
The Cowboys are saving cap room by declining to offer fullback Keith Smith the restricted free agent tender of $1.9 million. While they value his play on special teams and as a lead blocker, that number is too high for a fullback who plays limited snaps in the regular offense.
The Cowboys talked to Smith's agent over the weekend about signing a multi-year contract extension lower than the restricted tender to give him some security. But Smith is going to be patient with the process and weigh his options in free agency.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team that will be in the market for Smith's services, according to a source.