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Opinion: Cowboys tagging DE DeMarcus Lawrence is the smart move

The Cowboys have officially placed the franchise tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and now have the rest of the spring to work out a contract extension.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) celebrates a play against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

INDIANAPOLIS —

The Dallas Cowboys assigned the franchise tag to defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for the second consecutive year, WFAA's Mike Leslie reported Monday.

The move was actually pretty shrewd for the Cowboys to make the announcement with a day to go before the March 5 deadline at 3:00 p.m. Central Time.

To be clear, all the Cowboys have done Monday is place protective boundaries around the rights to negotiate with Lawrence. All it means is that Dallas will have the exclusive rights to talk about a long-term contract with the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end. 

The reality is that the franchise tag has no ramifications until the July 15 deadline at 3:00 p.m. Central Time. If the Cowboys go beyond that point with Lawrence, then the two sides are prevented from negotiating a new contract until the end of the season. At that point, Lawrence will have the choice between signing the franchise tag one-year offer or stop showing up for work. Neither of those choices are particularly great for either side so working out an extension would be presumably be the preferred option.

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It isn't that the Cowboys think Lawrence isn't worth the money. It isn't a matter of disrespect or not fully comprehending what he brings to the team. A source told me at the combine that Dallas is in a similar boat to other NFL teams that are having to make decisions on their pass rushers while also having young quarterback extensions hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles.

Having Scrooge McDuck's vault worth of salary cap space won't solve the conundrum of having to give Lawrence a fair deal while also getting ready for quarterback Dak Prescott's extension at the end of the season, running back Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension in possibly two seasons, cornerback Byron Jones' extension at the end of 2019, and Amari Cooper's deal, another player entering the final year of his contract.

The problem isn't that the Cowboys don't know where they want to go. Of course they do, but the problem is that they are having to lay down their own infrastructure to get there.

Tagging Lawrence gives Dallas time. Now, they will have four full months to get the Lawrence contract figured out. Furthermore, they can work the numbers against their projections for Jones, Prescott, and Cooper. 

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It took the Cowboys a full four seasons to find a "war daddy" pass rusher in between the departure of DeMarcus Ware after 2013 and the emergence of Lawrence in 2017. Is keeping a war daddy like Lawrence around long-term worth the cap casualties? At the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix in 2017, Stephen said that pass-rusher is the one position after quarterback that doesn't ever escape a team if he's really that good.

The new league year begins on March 13 at 3:00 p.m. Central Time. Now, the Cowboys can sing the gridiron rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" and not have to worry about Lawrence being courted by any other teams.

Do you think that the Cowboys will get an extension done for DeMarcus Lawrence or will they have a messy holdout on their hands? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.