In 2012 and '13, the Cowboys used their franchise tag on outside linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer, paying him roughly $19 million.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher would be the only candidate for the tag among the Cowboys' current free agents, but that would be a lot of cap space to use on a soon-to-be 32-year-old defensive tackle with just one season of more than four sacks.
Hatcher was added to the Pro Bowl after the 2013 season after posting a career-high 11 sacks. He took to the 4-3 scheme and wondered how his career might have been different had he played in it the entire time as opposed to the 3-4. In the 4-3, Hatcher was able to attack the passer more. In the 3-4, he was asked to two-gap and hold up blockers for the linebackers to make plays.
If Hatcher were a few years younger, the Cowboys' decision might be more difficult, but with all the maneuvering the Cowboys will have to do to get under the cap, it does not make good business sense to lock up an aging player to such a big piece of the pie.
The Cowboys could have to shed $20-25 million to get under the 2014 salary-cap figure once it's finalized. Some of the moves are rather easy, such as restructuring the contracts of Tony Romo and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have to make decisions on veterans such as DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, as well, which could open up room.
The Cowboys would need to get under the cap by roughly $9 million more to fit what Hatcher would be paid under the tag. It is not impossible, but it's just not wise.
For years, the Cowboys have been willing to push it to the brink with the cap, but they have received no on-field payout, with just one playoff win since 1996.
It might be too late to be fiscally responsible, but passing on using the franchise tag this year makes sense.