It will mark just the fifth time the Cowboys have used the tag since its inception. Bryant will join Flozell Adams (2002), Ken Hamlin (2008) and Anthony Spencer, who was tagged in 2012 and '13, as the only Cowboys’ tagged. Hamlin never played under the tag having reached a six-year, $39 million deal.
During the 2014 season, Bryant said he would be “highly disappointed” if the Cowboys used the franchise tag. Players largely view the tag as a hindrance, not a financial boon. It effectively keeps them off the open market because other teams are unlikely to give up two first-round picks as compensation.
They want the security of a long-term deal with heavy guaranteed money, but they have few options.
They can sit out the voluntary offseason program, skip the mandatory June minicamp, which would subject them to fines, or sit out of training camp and games in protest. But they won’t be getting paid.
Several executives asked at the NFL scouting combine said the player’s reaction to the tag is not weighed when making the decision. Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a succinct answer when asked the questions: “Uh, no.”
“The player has no choice in the matter,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It’s something that we agree on that’s been collectively bargained.”
As much as the players don’t like it, it’s not a tool teams enjoy using much because of the amount of cap space it eats up. While it will not prevent the Cowboys from being active in free agency, tagging Bryant would force them to move money around in ways that could hurt their cap in the future.
On a long-term deal, the player’s first-year cap number is relatively low.
“For some players there’s a negative reaction to it but that’s not the case with all players,” Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “For the team, it’s a tool to continue to try to keep good players.”
Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett said they would not be worried about Bryant’s reaction to the tag, even though there has been heavy speculation that Bryant will stay away from the team in the offseason without a long-term deal.
When the Cowboys tagged Spencer in 2012 and ‘13, he wasted little time in signing the tender.
“If you sign it right away, it’s automatically guaranteed,” Spencer’s Dallas-based agent, Jordan Woy said. “You can still negotiate to get a long-term deal. But I don’t see the benefit in not signing it because if I don’t sign it, it’s not guaranteed, No. 1. The team could take it away and if you wait too long other things can happen (like teams not having cap space). Or people could change their mind. I think it’s better signing it and having the guaranteed money sitting there.”
The likelihood of the Cowboys pulling the tender from Bryant, however, is slim. Another agent said for a player of Bryant’s caliber teams will always create cap space to get a deal done.
“I’ve never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn’t do it over this kind of money,” Jerry Jones said. “That usually is not realistic. It’s just too much money. And consequently it’s not set up or packaged the way that parties might want -- and I want to emphasize again – it’s not really set up in our best interest at all. 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. And so if anything it’s in the right situation, it’s a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future.”
Spencer made $19.4 million in the two years he was tagged, and he played in just one game in 2013 because of a knee injury. Had he signed a longer-term deal, he might not have been able to make the same amount of money.
If the Cowboys are unable to reach a long-term deal on Bryant, then they could always use the franchise tag on him in 2016, which could bring his two-year total up to $28 million. And if they so desired, they could use it in 2017, according to league rules, and likely have to pay him the quarterback tender.
Perhaps Hamlin could serve as the template for the tagging of Bryant.
The Cowboys put the $4.396 million tag on Hamlin in 2008 but reached a six-year, $39 million deal in July that included a $9 million signing bonus. Hamlin, however, lasted just two more years. The Cowboys never got the value they were expecting.
Monday is the deadline to put the tag on Bryant, but the next deadline is July 15, which is when a long-term deal needs to be finalized or the receiver would play the year under the franchise tag.
By then we’ll know if the tag is a “placeholder,” or the deal.