Cowboys' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2021

Cowboys' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    It might feel like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just got off their celebratory boat ride after Super Bowl 55, but the quest for Super Bowl 56 is already getting underway. 

    One of the first major events of the offseason is the opening of the franchise-tag window. That could be an especially important occasion for the Dallas Cowboys as taking care of Dak Prescott—who the team used the tag on last season—should be a top priority. 

    After failing to come to a long-term agreement with their star quarterback last season, the team settled on giving him the franchise tag worth $31.4 million

    The franchise tag isn't the only one-year fix available to them in free agency either. Teams can also sign restricted free agents to a one-year tender that either guarantees them the right to first refusal or draft compensation depending on how much the tender is worth. 

    Given Dallas' financial restrictions, a one-year band-aid for some of the free agents they may want to keep around without committing big money to right now could be useful. Here's a look at some of the players they'll be considering for various designations. 

Franchise Tag: QB Dak Prescott

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Admittedly, this is not an ideal scenario for the Cowboys. With the cap projected to fall somewhere between $180-$181 million, signing their star quarterback while retaining some of the outgoing talent or signing new free agents is going to be difficult. 

    What will actually make that even more difficult is if they are forced to use the franchise tag on their quarterback again. The cost of franchise tags, which is determined in part by the salaries of the top players at the position, are going down for players who are getting tagged for the first time. 

    For instance, the franchise tag for a quarterback is expected to be $24 million this season, quite a bit less than Prescott made last season. 

    Prescott's tag price, however, will be based on what he was paid last season. If they choose to tag him for a second consecutive season that will cost them $37.7 million. With just $18.4 million in projected cap space going into the offseason, that will be a prohibitive cost to fill needs elsewhere and sign a full draft class. 

    Patrik Walker of CBS Sports reported at the beginning of the month the expectation is that the two sides will land on the tag for the second year in a row to buy more time to negotiate a long-term deal.

    While the financial side of that isn't great, Prescott's health is a reason that could end up helping out Dallas in the long run. Prescott will return after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. If he ends up playing on another one-year deal it would give the Cowboys time to see if he's going to be the same player when he comes back next season. 

Restricted Free Agent Tender: DT Antwaun Woods

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    It's no secret that the Cowboys run defense was miserable under Mike Nolan. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is going to have to find a way to stop the run and won't have much cap flexibility to do it. 

    One of the areas in which the Cowboys struggled was on the interior of the defensive line. Neville Gallimore played like a rookie and will likely be given a chance to show improvement in his second season but Trysten Hill didn't show many signs he could take on a larger role next season. 

    They traded for Eli Ankou at the trade deadline from the Houston Texans, but he wasn't much of a factor either in the defensive tackle rotation. 

    Woods is coming off his worst season to date. He posted his worst season by Sports Info Solutions' points saved metric. 

    The soon-to-be 29-year-old is a relatively high-floor, low-ceiling signing. The Cowboys know what they are getting from him with the possibility of a bounce-back season after a disappointing showing in 2020. 

    Is that worth the projected $2.1 million right to first refusal tender? Probably not. But it still seems likely the Cowboys will try to bring him back provided there isn't really a market out there for him. At this point, he's a veteran who is familiar with the organization and can provide depth.

Restricted Free Agent Tender: WR Cedrick Wilson Jr.

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Given the trio of talented receivers the Cowboys have at the top of the depth chart ,the Cowboys don't have to prioritize Cedrick Wilson Jr. But the former sixth-round pick has shown improvement every year in Dallas. 

    He spent all of 2018 on the injured reserve. Fought to get on the field in 2019 and only saw action in six games with five catches to show for it. It looked like he might be on his way to a breakout season after his Week 3 game against the Seahawks

    The former Boise State Bronco reeled in five catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Seattle. 

    That turned out to be an outlier, though, as he ended the season with just 17 catches and 189 yards. All told, he was the fourth-most productive wide receiver on the roster, and the Cowboys will have to determine if they want to stick with Wilson or Noah Brown. Brown is an unrestricted free agent and finished just behind Wilson in terms of productivity. 

    This is one of those decisions that seems insignificant now, but it leaves the team one injury away from deciding who the team's No. 3 receiver will be next season. 

    Much like Woods, the only tender the Cowboys should be considering is the right to first refusal, which is the lowest a team can offer. It only ensures teams will have the opportunity to match any contract another team offers. 

    But even that at $2.1 million is a bit pricey for Wilson. 

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