The NFL's franchise tag is tied to need and opportunity. That's why the Dallas Cowboys felt compelled to use the tag on defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, which they officially did on Monday.
For the Cowboys, making this move makes sense. They used the time leading up to then to try to get a long-term contract worked out with Lawrence. When those efforts didn't result in a new deal, they did what they had to prior to the franchise-tag deadline at the end of the day Tuesday. There was no way they could let him enter free agency following a 14.5-sack season.
Lawrence also wasn't going to budge. He clearly didn't get the contract numbers he hoped for and wasn't going to settle for less. As a result, the Cowboys will guarantee at least the one-year, roughly $17 million tender for 2018 and keep Lawrence off the market for now.
The two sides reportedly will keep talking, and the team will have until July 15 to sign Lawrence to a multi-year deal — assuming Lawrence doesn't sign the tender offer before then. Otherwise, he would play the 2018 season on the tag.
Lawrence's agent, David Canter, also represents Olivier Vernon, who signed a five year, $85 million deal in 2016 with the New York Giants. It's believed that — not even factoring in inflation — Vernon's deal might represent a starting point for negotiations between the Cowboys and Lawrence.
There's risk in giving an injury-prone player that kind of money coming off a breakout season. However, Lawrence turns 26 before the draft and has come back stronger than ever following two back procedures. The Cowboys clearly value his worth and need him to anchor their pass rush.
The Cowboys can afford to tag Lawrence but for the time being are extremely limited in what they can do with the start of free agency a little more than a week away. Tagging Lawrence would leave them with just about $4 million in salary-cap space, and they've talked for more than a year with offensive guard Zack Martin (whose deal expires in 2019) about an extension.
Might they be compelled to release Dez Bryant and his $16.5 million cap hit for this coming season, as well as making other cost-cutting moves that could weaken the team? It's not out of the realm of possibilities. Such is the price of using the tag and keeping one of their best defensive players on the roster.