IRVING, Texas – It’s been suspected for some time now, but the Dallas Cowboys confirmed this weekend that they’ll be using the franchise tag on Dez Bryant by tomorrow’s March 2 deadline.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones confirmed that the team will tag Bryant by 3 p.m. on Monday, which is the deadline for all NFL clubs to use the designation.
The deal, which will net Bryant roughly $13 million for the 2015 season, accomplishes two goals for the Cowboys. Firstly, it will keep Bryant off the free agent market, which opens next week on March 10 – a priority for the front office if no long-term contract could be reached.
“We’ve worked hard to do a long-term deal with him and we’ll continue to work hard at it,” Jones said at the NFL Combine. “If we don’t get one, then it just shows him how much we care about him – we don’t want to expose him.”
Secondly, the franchise tag allows the Cowboys to continue working on a long-term deal for several more months. Though the franchise tag offers Bryant a guarantee of $13 million, NFL rules also stipulate that the two sides can continue working on a long-term contract until July 15, when they must cut off negotiations until after the season.
That fact wasn’t lost on Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones when he described the franchise tag as a “placeholder” last week. As much as Bryant might want a long-term deal, it would also be easier on the Cowboys’ finances to spread his cap hit out over several years – as opposed to one $13 million sum.
“There’s a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn’t franchise, but this is here when you don’t have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term,” Jerry Jones said. “And so if anything it’s in the right situation, it’s a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future.”
Bryant will become the fourth Cowboys player to hit with the franchise tag, joining offensive tackle Flozell Adams, safety Ken Hamlin and defensive end Anthony Spencer – who was tagged in both 2012 and 2013.
Hamlin was the only one of those four players to sign a new deal before the start of the next season.
It remains to be seen how negotiations will play out with Bryant, but the decision also affects the Cowboys’ other high-profile free agent – DeMarco Murray. By tagging Bryant, the Cowboys have all but assured that Murray will hit the free agency market next Tuesday.
In the same 90-minute interview last weekend, Jerry Jones said he had a range in mind for what he’d be willing to pay Murray, who led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,845 last year. Whether that’s enough to bring the two-time Pro Bowler is the question.
Stephen Jones said Murray will likely have to make a business decision about whether to stay with the Cowboys or agree to a contract elsewhere.
“There are a lot of things we have to evaluate before we make the ultimate decision as to how what our number is going to be with DeMarco versus what some others’ number may be,” he said. “At some point he’ll have to make a business decision, which no one will respect more than us.”
REVISED NFL DRAFT BOARD: Top-50 Prospects prior to Pro Day process
With the NFL Scouting Combine complete, the 2015 NFL Draft is only two months away as teams and prospects prepare for the Pro Day portion of the process. This second top-50 draft board has five new additions, including Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson, who made the biggest jump to No. 21 overall. However there were no changes among the top-seven prospects, starting with USC DT Leonard Williams, Florida State QB Jameis Winston and Florida DE/OLB Dante Fowler holding onto the top three spots.
The draft board will fluctuate throughout the process with two more updates (one after the pro day circuit and a final update the week prior to the NFL Draft).
1. Leonard Williams, DT, USC (6-5, 302, 4.97, JR)
Williams hasn’t done anything to lose his grasp on the top spot, projecting as an impact NFL player from day one either for either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (6-4, 231, 4.97, rSO)
The clear favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in April, Winston helped himself at the NFL Combine as the best quarterback during passing drills and received positive feedback during team interviews.
3. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida (6-3, 261, 4.60, JR)
The 2015 class is full of talented pass rushers, but Fowler is the most impressive with his get-off explosion and relentless energy to disrupt the backfield.
4. Brandon Scherff, OG, Iowa (6-5, 319, 5.05, rSR)
A college left tackle, Scherff will be a tackle on some draft boards, but his best fit at the next level is inside at guard where he can dominate as a run blocker and pass protector.
5. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (6-1, 211, 4.42, JR)
Arguably the safest prospect in the 2015 class, Cooper runs polished routes, knows how to get open and his 4.42 40-yard dash confirms he has more than enough speed for the NFL.
6. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (6-3, 215, 4.35, SR)
One of the winners from the NFL Combine, White is still narrowly behind Cooper among wide receiver prospects on this board, but confirmed during his workouts that he is worth a top-seven pick.
7. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (6-4, 222, 4.52, rJR)
Isolating the traits, Mariota has the arm strength, athleticism and elite character for the NFL, but he’s far from a can’t-miss, taking a huge step from Oregon’s offense to the pros.
8. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington (6-2, 339, 5.64, SR)
Shelton followed up his impressive Senior Bowl with a solid showing at the NFL Combine and will be an attractive prospect for a team in search of an athletic nose tackle.
9. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville (6-3, 209, 4.45, SR)
While most of the wide receiver talk starts with Cooper or White, Parker reminded teams at the Combine that he still belongs in the top-10 conversation with potential to be a NFL No. 1.
10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (6-1, 222, 4.54, JR)
Although the ACL injury clouds his draft projection, Gurley’s talent is still deserving of top-32 consideration and a team in the back-half of round one will likely get a steal.
11. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas (6-2, 319, 5.05, JR)
A player who can realistically line up at any of the defensive line spots, Brown has a good mixture of quickness and power to win off the snap and penetrate the backfield.
12. Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State (6-0, 186, 4.31, rJR)
Waynes entered the Combine as the top cornerback and he put an exclamation point on that statement with a 4.31 40-yard dash, best among the defensive back group.
13. Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska (6-5, 255, 4.76, rJR)
Dropping five spots from the first draft board, Gregory has intriguing pass rush potential, but the functional strength and weight issues create several questions.
14. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson (6-2, 246, 4.53, rSR)
Beasley added 10-15 pounds for the Combine and produced 35 reps on the bench, but didn’t lose his burst despite the added weight with a 4.53 40-yard dash and 41-inch vertical jump.
15. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford (6-7, 313, 5.18, JR)
Peat has mechanical and balance inconsistencies, but the body control and natural gifts for the position don’t come along often, projecting him as a starting left tackle.
16. Alvin Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky (6-4, 269, 4.56, rSR)
A former tight end like Vic Beasley, Dupree showed off his natural explosion at the NFL Combine with a 4.56 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical and 11-feet-6 broad jump.
17. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh (6-5, 309, 5.14 rSR)
As a former defensive end, it’s easy to spot Clemmings’ unpolished footwork, but he has the upper body power and attitude to dominate defenders once he gets his hands on them.
18. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri (6-3, 245, 4.83, JR)
Ray is far from a flawless prospect and might only fit 4-3 defenses, but he has the best first step in this draft class with workable traits to develop.
19. Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington (6-0, 228, 4.64, JR)
The top traditional linebacker in the 2015 NFL Draft class, Thompson has impressive athletic traits with an accurate strike zone to wrap and finish.
20. Landon Collins, SS, Alabama (6-0, 228, 4.53, JR)
Although his hiccups in coverage are tough to ignore, Collins is a heat-seeking missile with downhill closing burst, projecting as a rookie starter at strong safety.
21. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest (6-0, 188, 4.53, rSR)
Although his 40-yard dash was average, Johnson tested well in the vertical (41.5-inches), broad jump (10-feet-10) and short shuttle (3.89) at the Combine, backing up his impressive game film.
22. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma (6-5, 237, 4.49, JR)
Green-Beckham might be the most gifted prospect in the 2015 class and is destined for big things in the NFL, but can he keep his nose clean at the next level?
23. La’el Collins, OT, LSU (6-5, 305, 5.12, SR)
Although it doesn’t always look pretty, Collins routinely gets the job done and sells out each snap, projecting at tackle for some teams and guard for others.
24. Marcus Peters, CB, Washington (6-0, 197, 4.53, JR)
Although the 40-yard dash (4.53) wasn’t impressive and he has considerable baggage, Peters is still one of the top corners in this class with his natural instincts and brash confidence.
25. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (6-1, 215, 4.52, rJR)
In the Jamaal Charles mold, Gordon stands out with his elite combination of balance and acceleration, making him a home run threat any time he touches the ball.
26. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State (5-11, 193, 4.38, JR)
27. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Fla.) (6-6, 329, 5.31, JR)
28. Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia (6-3, 247, 4.60, JR)
29. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota (6-4, 249, 4.78, rSO)
30. Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma (6-5, 329, 5.17, rJR)
31. Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF (6-2, 212, 4.47, JR)
32. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State (6-0, 194, 4.57 JR)
33. Owa Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA (6-4, 267, 4.62, rSR)
34. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State (6-2, 217, 4.44, rJR)
35. Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State (6-0, 221, 4.57, rJR)
36. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana (5-11, 206, 4.62, JR)
37. Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon (6-7, 292, 5.10, JR)
38. Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State (6-4, 336, 5.28, JR)
39. Eric Kendricks, OLB, UCLA (6-0, 232, 4.61, rSR)
40. Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State (6-5, 271, 4.74, SR)
41. Eric Rowe, CB, Utah (6-1, 205, 4.45, rSR)
42. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon (6-6, 306, 5.01, rSR)
43. Cam Erving, OC, Florida State (6-5, 313, 5.15, rSR)
44. Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio) (5-11, 195, 4.57, rSR)
45. A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina (6-3, 313, 5.08, rSR)
46. Paul Dawson, OLB, TCU (6-0, 235, 4.93, SR)
47. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa (6-5, 320, 5.07, rSR)
48. Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State (6-6, 338, 5.27, rJR)
49. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (Fla.) (5-11, 236, 4.78, SR)
50. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC (6-0, 198, 4.42, JR)
Courtesy: Dane Brugler | Senior Analyst NFL Draft Scout/Sports Xchange via CBS Sports