The Dallas Cowboys reportedly will use the franchise tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence this offseason, with the goal of working out a long-term contract extension before the July 16 deadline, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.
Moore added that the team won't use the tag tomorrow when they are first eligible to do so but will hit him with the tag by March 6.
That plan of action means the Cowboys won't have to worry about competing with other teams in free agency, where Lawrence would probably be a very popular target for teams, as B/R's Matt Miller noted earlier in February:
Lawrence, for what it's worth, doesn't seem terribly bothered by the Cowboys inevitably using the franchise tag on him, as he said this offseason per the Dallas Morning News:
"I already know what my situation is. I really don't care about it because I already know how the Cowboys feel about me and they know how I feel about the organization. My agent is going to take care of everything.
"I can't tell you how much money they have in their pocket. I can't tell you how they're going to spend. I can't tell you if they're going to put a tag on me. I can't tell you none of that. We're just going to let the chips fall where they may. Let's say they spend all of their money, what are they going to do? Tag me, point, blank, period, so I don't have time to sit here and think about that."
Lawrence, 25, had a breakout season in 2017, registering career highs in tackles (58), sacks (14.5), forced fumbles (four) and fumble recoveries (two). Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 94.1 last season, ranking him third amongst all edge-rushers in the NFL.
Retaining him, in other words, is vital for the Cowboys. The question will be at what cost. Slapping the franchise tag on him will take up about $17.5 million in cap space for Dallas, all but depleting the $20 million they have free ahead of the 2018 season. Naturally, signing him to a long-term deal would alleviate that cap hit and allow the Cowboys to spread his earnings over several seasons.
"Our first goal is to sign him to a long-term deal," executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the Senior Bowl, per Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. "To me, the only reason you use a franchise tag is to hopefully protect yourself if you can't get a long-term deal signed that you like. That's normally the route we like to go. Certainly we're going to roll up our sleeves and see if we can do something with DeMarcus without having a franchise tag."
Both sides will have leverage in contract talks. Lawrence established himself as a dynamic defensive end in 2018 ad his value on the open market would be sky high, but he also needed back surgeries in consecutive offseason before his breakout campaign, a health risk the Cowboys will point to in negotiations.