Cowboys won't have to play game of tag for a few years

IRVING, Texas -- That the Dallas Cowboys won’t use the franchise or transition tag in 2016 is hardly surprising. They have no worthy candidates.

Greg Hardy had it written into his contract that the Cowboys could not put the franchise or transition tag on him. After putting up just six sacks in 2015, the Cowboys weren’t going to use it anyway. Who else could they tag? Morris Claiborne missed five games last season and has three interceptions for his career. Rolando McClain has been productive, but is he reliable?

The remaining 13 unrestricted free agents wouldn’t be worth the price involved either.

The projected defensive end franchise tag is more than $15 million. At linebacker, it will be around $14 million. At cornerback, it’s $13.7 million.

Now you can see why the Cowboys won’t use the tag in 2016.

And looking to the future, it’s quite possible they won’t use it in 2017 either with the players currently under contract.

Travis Frederick's contract expires after this season, but the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year option this spring, guaranteeing he is with the team through 2017. The Cowboys could look to extend Frederick’s contract as early as this offseason.

Terrance Williams is entering the final year of his deal. The Cowboys aren’t going to use the tag on him.

If you want to carry it forward to 2018, then defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence could play his way into the franchise tag should he continue to develop the way he did in 2015. He led the Cowboys with eight sacks. With back-to-back double-digit sack seasons, Lawrence could play his way into a long-term deal from the Cowboys before the tag is necessary.

Who else? The Cowboys will have Zack Martin under the fifth-year option in 2018. La'el Collins will be going into his restricted free agent season, so they will have his rights too.

Using the tag is not best for either side. The player hates it because they don’t have any long-term security. Clubs use it, but it can be prohibitive against them as well.

Last year the Cowboys placed the tag on Dez Bryant, chewing up nearly $13 million in cap room. As a result, they had to restructure Tony Romo's contract -- which they did not want to do -- to fit Hardy’s per-game roster bonuses under the cap. It also affected Dallas' dealings with DeMarco Murray.

But the worst part for the Cowboys was Bryant’s absence from the offseason program. He was not around the team working out and practicing. Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million deal on July 15, but the Cowboys believed his absence from the offseason work led to his down season. Bryant caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns while missing seven games with a broken right foot.

“You’ve got to say, ‘Could we have figured out a better way to do Dez to where he doesn’t miss all of the practice through the offseason into training camp?’” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told ESPN.com last season. “Could there have been a better way? I don’t know the answer to that. Contract disputes are contract disputes. But at the end of the day when you don’t practice and you’re in a skill position, then I think you suffer. I think it’s hard to be consistently good. You think about Dez, he missed the whole offseason, then missed most of camp and then gets hurt in the first game and misses the next six weeks.

“Obviously he’s not able to perform at the level that we’ve been used to with him. If he makes a few catches that he normally makes, that could’ve been a couple more [wins], and in our division that would be a lot right now.”

The Cowboys have used the tag five times -- on Flozell Adams, Ken Hamlin, Anthony Spencer (twice) and Bryant. In 2013, Spencer missed all but 34 snaps because of a knee injury, but he made $10.6 million.

The good news is the Cowboys don’t have to worry about the tag for a couple of seasons, if not more.

But that can be a case of bad news well if the players don’t develop.