Franchise tag for Hatcher not an option

The Cowboys can begin the process of franchising prospective free agents Monday and there's only one worth doing: Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. But team officials aren't trying to do that at this stage because of a lack of salary-cap space. The team is projected to be $20 million to $25 million over.

Hatcher is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had a career-high 11 sacks, but given his age -- turns 32 in July-- and the need to get younger, the Cowboys will let him test the market.

Hatcher said after the season he's expecting a big payday. Although he cherished his time with the Cowboys and would like to stay, he understands the business side of things.

"I'm going to get what I deserve and get what I'm worth," Hatcher said in late December. "Age don't matter. Whatever. If you ain't talking what I want, I don't want to talk to ‘em."

The Cowboys have issues along the defensive line and made a mess of things last summer by not drafting a defensive lineman. The smartest move the franchise made was signing Nick Hayden, a defensive tackle, last February, and he ended up becoming a starter when injuries wrecked the line.

The Cowboys depended on Jay Ratliff to return from injuries to play a full season in 2013, but he didn't do anything for the team other than cause trouble in the rehab department and he was eventually released.

DeMarcus Ware, the star defensive end, had a down season with six sacks, and injuries slowed him. So the Cowboys have to make a decision regarding his future soon.

This brings me back to Hatcher, who is a valued member of the team on and off the field, yet his time appears to have passed with the Cowboys.

He started to morph into a excellent player the past two seasons and while the Cowboys were happy to have a third-round pick become a full-time starter, the business side of things dictates they let him go.