By now, the Dallas Cowboys oughta be used to being strapped for cash. They were up against the salary cap last year, too, but they still found a way to keep Anthony Spencer with a $10.6 million franchise tag.
That, of course, did not pay off one bit, with Spencer missing virtually the entire season due to a knee injury. That might actually increase Spencer's chances of returning to Dallas in 2014, simply because he's unlikely to land a long-term deal to his satisfaction on the open market.
But there's no way in hell the Cowboys would be willing to pay him about $16 million, which is the estimated tag price for a player in his situation. So, it'll be a short deal or no deal.
That likely means the Cowboys won't use the tag at all.
With Spencer off the table and stud kicker Dan Bailey signed to a long-term deal, the only possible tagged player who comes to mind is Jason Hatcher. The defensive tackle was one of Dallas' best players in 2013, and at 32, he might not be able to earn a long-term deal here or elsewhere.
The tag makes sense from that standpoint, and it would likely cost less than $10 million for a player at that position, which isn't terrible. But based on numbers provided by OvertheCap.com, the Cowboys still have to cut over $20 million merely to get under the cap by the start of the new league year on March 11.
|Teams that are over the salary cap|
|Over the cap|
|1. Dallas Cowboys||$24 million|
|2. Pittsburgh Steelers||$11 million|
|3. San Diego Chargers||$3 million|
|4. Seattle Seahawks||$0.1 million|
Starting Monday, Dallas will have a two-week window in which it can utilize the tag, so a decision doesn't have to be made immediately. But the Cowboys have to focus right now on chopping, not adding salaries, especially when we're talking about players who will turn 33 before they play another regular-season game.
Hatcher was indeed a key cog last year, but there's a chance he was peaking, and it's not as though he lifted a defense that was ranked dead last in the league in terms of yards allowed. He's not a Super Bowl-level difference-maker, which is why Jerry Jones and Co. would be better off letting him test free-agent waters that were quite unfavorable for players in his situation one year ago.
Maybe he still winds up in Dallas on a cheaper, short-term deal. That would be ideal. But the tag isn't worth the risk. I think the Cowboys know that, but few teams are as unpredictable as this one.