In Anthony Spencer's case, franchise tag worked out

PHOENIX -- Plenty of things can change between now and March 2 when the Dallas Cowboys have to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, but the read-between-the-lines talk is that there is little doubt the team will use the designation.

By doing so the Cowboys must pay Bryant the average of the top-five salary-cap figures for wide receivers over the last five seasons. That figures to come in at $12.5 million to $13 million.

It's a hefty price for the Cowboys to have lock in on one player for one year. It creates a potential unhappy Bryant, who wants the security of a long-term deal and all the guaranteed money that comes with it.

A long-term deal would benefit the Cowboys, too, because Bryant would not count as much against the 2015 salary cap and potentially free them up to keep DeMarco Murray, too.

But the design of the tag is to keep Bryant from playing elsewhere.

"It's certainly a tool that franchises use to manage their roster, manage the salary cap," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think it's an important tool. I think in general you'd rather not have to use it, you'd rather have guys under contract so you can put the kind of team together that you want over a longer period of time. But there's a business part of this, and that's a tool that teams use to do their business well. Hopefully it's beneficial to different people."

The Cowboys last used the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in 2012 and '13. The total cost was $19.4 million. The tag prevented Spencer from shopping his wares to other teams coming off his best season -- he had 11 sacks in 2012 -- but when he missed all but 34 snaps in 2013 he was rewarded handsomely.

"You're getting paid the top of your position, but at the same time everybody wants a long-term contract," Spencer said. "But what guarantee do you have in a long-term contract? You're only guaranteed what they give you up front. Usually the franchise tag is just about the same or a little bit more than what you're going to get for signing up front. I was fortunate to get two of them, so I ended up coming out of it ahead. I ended up making more than what I was asking for in the beginning so it didn't really affect me in a negative way."

Bryant already said he would be disappointed if the Cowboys gave him the franchise tag. He wants to be a Cowboy. The Cowboys want to keep him but they want to do so while mitigating some of the financial risk.

His options would be limited. He can sit out and not be paid. He can make due with roughly $13 million with the hopes of getting the multi-year deal at another point.

"I don't want to get into the business of all of that," Garrett said last week when asked if the team would be worried about the receiver's reaction to the tag. "But Dez is a football player that's really, really … he's a hell of a player. He's one of the best at his position and we're lucky to have him, have him here for a long time."