Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones understands why players hate getting slapped with the franchise tag. It keeps them another year away from free agency and cashing in on a long-term deal.
But that’s not going to stop him from using it, or simply using the threat of it in hopes of negotiating a more team-friendly contract with one of his star players.
Jones continued to make that point clear in saying the Cowboys will use the franchise tag on receiver Dez Bryant if the two sides can’t agree on an extension. That decision, Bryant has said, won’t sit well with him.
It’s a fine line for Jones and the Cowboys to tread this off-season, because an unhappy Bryant could mean an unproductive Bryant.
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Asked if that weighed on his mind, Jones said: “Not at all. Ninety-nine percent of the time the player is disappointed because that means he didn’t get a long-term deal done.
“There’s no one that I know that can’t understand why a player wants to play with a long-term deal in place. But that’s just not the NFL, that’s not our game, that’s not the way we’re set up and the way we’ve all agreed that we’ll do. That franchise [tag] is as valuable as the draft and different rounds in the draft. It’s just part of it.”
Bryant’s future, as well as that of running back DeMarco Murray, remain burning questions for the Cowboys early on this off-season. They are the two most prominent of 21 free agents the Cowboys have to deal with, and Jones has acknowledged it will be a challenge to retain both.
But that won’t stop him from trying.
Bryant is seeking a long-term deal that pays him as one of the top-three receivers in the league. But would he settle for less, given the leverage the Cowboys have with the franchise tag?
Murray, meanwhile, is sure to seek financial security after a career year and what appears to be his best shot at landing a lucrative, long-term deal. But could Murray’s heavy workload last season scare teams on the open market, giving the Cowboys a better chance to re-sign him?
Either way, Jones hopes the Cowboys are able to lure each player back with contracts that make sense for the organization moving forward. His two biggest selling points on long-term deals are playing for a contending team and working in a state with no income tax.
“Every player knows what he gets, other members of the team don’t,” said Jones, the NFL’s executive of the year. “Apart from wanting to make the most money, they want to play on the best team. That’s to the man.
“And the best team is the one that you can get your money’s worth the most under the cap. But every dollar that goes to any player is a dollar that’s not going to the other players.”
Jones said the lack of a state income tax in Texas effectively makes salaries 6 to 8 percent more valuable than in states with a levy on income.
Jones said the team has already spent several months formulating its approach for this off-season, particularly on how to handle the contract situations of Bryant and Murray.
They have an exclusive negotiating window with their pending free agents until March and intend to use it to their advantage. More work could be done this week at the Senior Bowl in Alabama with Jones and his staff, along with players’ agents, in town.
There’s no telling where those talks might lead. At the end of the day, though, Jones knows his No. 1 goal this off-season.
“Artfully allocate the available dollars we have and put together the best team that we can,” he said.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760