Cowboys in tricky spot with big names in limbo amid CBA uncertainty

Who are the top franchise tag candidates? (1:47)

Jeff Darlington, Jeff Saturday and Mike Tannenbaum name the players they expect will receive franchise tags. (1:47)

INDIANAPOLIS -- This week's NFL scouting combine could mean big things for the Dallas Cowboys and, more specifically, free-agents-to-be quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end Robert Quinn and cornerback Byron Jones.

The Cowboys, who have a first-round selection at No. 17, will meet with potential draft picks, conduct business with their free agents and wait to see the result of a vote among NFL players regarding the collective bargaining agreement.

If the new CBA is approved by the players, the Cowboys will find themselves in an even trickier position when it comes to Prescott, Cooper and Jones.

With an extension of the CBA, teams will be allowed to use the franchise or transition tag in 2020. Without an extension, teams will be allowed to use the franchise and transition tags because it will be the final year of the old CBA.

In the simplest terms: With a new CBA, the Cowboys could stand to lose Cooper and Jones to the open market because they will use the franchise tag on Prescott (if they don't come to terms on a deal).

Teams received an extra two days to negotiate because of the CBA talks, pushing the deadline to use the tag from March 10 to March 12. Hey, any little bit helps.

In a perfect world, the Cowboys would sign Prescott to an extension that would make him one of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks or perhaps the highest-paid quarterback. Then Dallas would be able to give the franchise or transition tag to Cooper or Jones (most likely Cooper).

But the Cowboys have been unable to finish a long-term deal with Prescott for nearly a year. In training camp last summer, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys' offer would make Prescott among the five highest-paid quarterbacks. In September, the Cowboys' offer to Prescott was believed to be about $33 million per year, with $105 million guaranteed. Since then, there has been little discussion between the Cowboys and Prescott's camp, though things will ramp up this week in Indianapolis.

The Cowboys never got far in talks with Cooper, who was content to play the 2019 season on his fifth-year option at $13.9 million. The Cowboys didn't really engage Jones' representatives in talks, either.

Although Stephen Jones likes to say that deals can come together quickly when both sides want to get something done, the fact that at least two of the three players are close to hitting the open market makes it even more difficult to finish deals before free agency.

Prescott is the Cowboys' top priority. He was their top priority last offseason, too, after defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence signed his five-year, $105 million deal, but the Cowboys also worked out contracts for running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Jaylon Smith and offensive tackle La'el Collins.

Cooper is the Cowboys' second priority. Dallas gave up a 2019 first-round pick to get him in a trade from the Raiders, and though he produced, the Cowboys certainly expected to have him for more than 25 regular-season games when they made the deal.

Quinn might be priority No. 3 over Byron Jones, but the Cowboys' secondary needs help. Jones (27) is younger than Quinn (29) and falls in line with the team's draft-and-pay philosophy. Without Jones, the Cowboys would have to make cornerback a priority this offseason.

Because Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was part of the group that negotiated the CBA with the NFLPA, it is safe to assume that he is in favor of the new CBA, even if it affects his team more than most others in 2020.

The decision to approve the potential CBA might be for the betterment of the NFL, but if it is passed, it won't be for the betterment of the Cowboys in 2020 unless Jerry and Stephen Jones can pull off some negotiation magic in a short amount of time.