Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys plan to place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence but will be in no rush

DeMarcus Lawrence had the best season of his career in 2017. Someone has to pay for that season.
DeMarcus Lawrence had the best season of his career in 2017. Someone has to pay for that season. rmallison@star-telegram.com

The Dallas Cowboys have used the franchise tag five times in their history.

Tackle Flozell Adams was tagged in 2002. Safety Ken Hamlin was tagged in 2000. Linebacker Anthony Spencer was tagged in 2012 and 2013. And receiver Dez Bryant was tagged in 2015.

The Cowboys eventually worked out a long-term deal with Bryant before the start of the season.

And it’s that pattern they hope to follow with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as franchise tag season begins around the NFL on Tuesday.

Teams can begin to use the franchise or transition tags Tuesday, and must make their designations by March 6.

After his timely breakout season in 2017 with a career-high 14.5 sacks, Lawrence is in line to cash in big on the free agent market.

Lawrence has had only one good year with just nine sacks in his previous three seasons combined, largely because of injuries. He would be coveted if he reaches the free agent market.

The Cowboys aren't in a rush. They have two weeks and will use next week's scouting combine to have more in-depth discussions with Lawrence's agent David Canter. Multiple sources say the franchise tag won't come before next week.

But make no mistake about it. The Cowboys have no intention of letting Lawrence go and are almost certain to slap him with the franchise tag while continuing to work on a long-term deal.

The franchise tag for Lawrence will likely be $17.5 million, taking a huge chunk of the salary cap.

The Cowboys have roughly $19 million in salary cap space available on the expected 2018 cap of $178 million.

Lawrence’s tag charge eats a huge portion of that as does a potential tender for restricted free agent defensive tackle David Irving.

The restricted numbers won’t be out for a couple of weeks. But last year, players who got the first-round tender made $3.91 million. Players who received the second-round tender were at $2.746 million.

Look for the Cowboys to at least place the second-round tender on Irving, which almost eats up the rest of the cap with Lawrence’s tag.

Contract restructures are likely with center Travis Frederick, tackle Tyron Smith and possibly linebacker Sean Lee. There might be some hard conversations ahead for Bryant,too, regarding a pay cut from his 2018 salary of $12.5 million.

In addition to re-signing Lawrence, the Cowboys would like to work a long-term contract extension with All-Pro guard Zack Martin and try to have enough money to hold on to free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

These are the team’s three biggest priorities in free agency.

It’s another reason the Cowboys will be back at the swap meet when it comes to signing outside free agents.

Decision time is coming in Dallas.

Lawrence and the franchise tag are up first.

DeMarcus Lawrence not counting the sacks but has noticed more attention from opponents