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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Important dates for the Cowboys

By Calvin Watkins

The offseason is here and the Dallas Cowboys, like most NFL teams, have certain roster issues to take care of.

We examine what the Cowboys do with their offseason schedule.

Feb. 17 -- Teams can begin applying the franchise tag to players.

What it means for the Cowboys: The team won't place the franchise tag on any of its free agents. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is seeking a big-money deal and with the Cowboys cap-tight it's doubtful the team will place the franchise tag on him. Defensive end Anthony Spencer was franchised the last two seasons and he’s not eligible to get tagged again. Spencer is coming off microfracture surgery and the Cowboys are open to bringing him back.

Feb. 19-25 -- Scouting combine in Indianapolis.

What it means for the Cowboys: As is the case with every team, the Cowboys will head to the combine looking to upgrade the roster. One of the keys to this is the man in charge of putting the draft board together: Will McClay. He takes over from Tom Ciskowski, who still has a major role in who the Cowboys draft. Yet, the Cowboys are in need of massive upgrades to a roster that’s failed to get them to the postseason the last four seasons.

March 3 -- The final day to use the franchise tag.

What it means for the Cowboys: Nothing really, considering they won’t franchise anyone.

March 8-11 -- Teams can begin negotiations with players who will be unrestricted free agents. Qualifying offers to restricted free agents are made in this window.

What it means for the Cowboys: The Cowboys had a chance to tender restricted free agent kicker Dan Bailey, but he signed a seven-year contract extension worth $22.5 million last month. Punter Chris Jones (exclusive rights) and running back Phillip Tanner (restricted) will return.

March 11 -- Free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET. Teams may begin signing players and trading players. Teams also must be under the salary cap.

What it means for the Cowboys: The Cowboys are nearly $25 million over the salary cap and the restructuring of several contracts, Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Carr among others, will help the Cowboys get under. The team could release Ware and most likely Miles Austin. If the team cuts Austin, he’ll be a post-June 1 cut creating roughly $5.5 million in cap space. A Ware restructure opens about $7 million in space. The Cowboys don’t expect to be major players in free agency again. The last time the Cowboys spent big money in free agency, was 2012 when it signed Carr to a five-year $50.1 million deal. The Cowboys could make some moves in terms of signing a veteran wideout or veteran safety on the cheap. Veterans Brian Waters, Ernie Sims and Danny McCray could return to the team with one- or two-year deals.

March 23-26 -- Annual league meetings in Orlando, Fla.

What it means for the Cowboys: Jerry and Stephen Jones are powerful in league circles and their influence on the competition committee is important here. Given how successful the Super Bowl went in New York/New Jersey and how some East Coast and Midwest cities are now making noise about hosting the big game, Jones might remind everyone about his stadium, and how Arlington, Texas needs another shot.

April 21 -- Teams with returning coaches may begin offseason workout programs.

What it means for the Cowboys: This is a big day for Romo. He’s recovering from back surgery and team officials say he should be ready for offseason work. If he’s not, does it mean the team should be worried about their franchise quarterback? Romo missed some offseason work last year while recovering from cyst surgery. Linebacker Sean Lee has torn ligaments in his neck, costing him the final three games of the 2013 season. Lee is expected to be ready for offseason workouts.

May 8-10 -- NFL draft.

What it means for the Cowboys: Among the needs for this franchise coming off another 8-8 finish: Defensive line, safety, quarterback, guard, cornerback.