Last year, the Cowboys used the franchise tag on linebacker Anthony Spencer, and it cost them $8.8 million.
Spencer is high on the team’s list of players to re-sign, but it is unlikely team owner Jerry Jones will slap the tag on him since the Cowboys are $20 million over the NFL’s salary cap and Spencer’s price tag is around $10 million (via NFL.com).
Using the tag on Spencer isn’t completely off the table, but for this piece, we are going to pretend that they are unable to do it this time around.
Outside of him, there are a few players the Cowboys can use the tag on to keep for depth reasons.
Mike Jenkins, CB – Wherever Jenkins lives in Dallas, a condo or a home, it is probably up for sale by now. He wants a starting job in the NFL and he will not find that with the Dallas Cowboys.
But as new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin changes the Cowboys' defense over from a 3-4 to a 4-3 (via ESPN), he’ll need some continuity in the defensive backfield.
Holding on to Jenkins would be the smart thing for depth purposes, but by franchising him, they would run the risk of him turning into a disgruntled player who tries to sabotage the team on the field.
Again—it’s just an option. Not a likely one, but it is worth a look.
Felix Jones, RB – Say what you will about Jones’ durability and ability on the field, I know that I have, but the Cowboys will need another running back in case DeMarco Murray goes down…again.
There is a chance they’ll select a running back in the draft instead of re-signing Jones, but just in case they decide not to, Jones is available.
Using the tag on him would keep him around for just one season and there is no guarantee he’ll make it on the field as he’s known to suffer from injuries as well.
There are other free agents on the list for the Cowboys to tag—wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, linebackers Ernie Sims and Victor Butler as well as a host of others including safeties and cornerbacks—they just aren't really worth it.
For those players, using the tag isn't an option.
Sims did a good job on fill-in duty for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, but using the tag on a reserve doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Ogletree will likely lose his job to receiver Dwayne Harris, and it seems that the Cowboys are ready to move on from the Ogletree era.
Lastly, because of the Cowboys' grim salary-cap situation and lack of usable talent, using the tag on a player the team can do without is just bad business.
Going back to Spencer, he’s looking for a long-term contract that will pay him about $12 million per season. Because the Cowboys won’t tag him and allow him to test free agency, it is not likely that Spencer will be back with Dallas in 2013.
They cannot give him what he’s looking for without making huge sacrifices. The Cowboys would likely have to part ways with offensive tackle Doug Free and restructure a number of veteran contracts.
They also need to improve their offensive line, and signing Spencer would hinder that process.
Unlike last year when the Cowboys were major players in the free-agent market, they will pay for that involvement this year by not making any large signings.