Dallas Cowboys can place franchise tag on Dak Prescott Tuesday but don’t have cap space

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Clarence E. Hill Jr.
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Let the eventual endgame between the Dallas Cowboys and free agent quarterback Dak Prescott officially begin.

The NFL’s window to place a franchise tag on a player starts Tuesday and runs through March 9.

So look for the Cowboys to intensify negotiations over the next 15 days to hopefully get a deal done with Prescott and avoid using a second franchise tag on him at a cost of $37.7 million for 2021.

As of now, the Cowboys don’t have the cap space to accommodate the tag.

Per NFL Players Association records, the Cowboys are roughly $17.5 million under the NFL’s now projected cap of $180 million.

ESPN has the Cowboys with 14.4 million in cap room and overthecap.com has them at $19 million.

The Cowboys can gain room by signing Prescott to a long-term extension, which would reduce the cap number in 2021 and subsequent years.

That is the ideal solution for all parties involved.

But that is easier said than done, considering the two sides were unable to come to terms the past two offseasons.

And they have shown no progress since the end of last season when Prescott played on the franchise tag of $31.4 million.

The Cowboys must find a way to clear room to fit the tag, if necessary, and then continue to negotiate.

The easiest way to do that is by restructuring the contracts of a few veterans on long-terms deals by converting a portion their base salary into a signing bonus. The cap hit from that bonus can be amortized over the length of the contract, which in turn lowers this year’s cap number.

The Cowboys have used this option over and over again in past years.

In 2020 alone, the Cowboys restructured the deals of guards La’el Collins and Zack Martin, tackle Tyron Smith and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, creating more than $31 million in cap space with the primary purpose of stocking up a war chest to pay Prescott.

All are options to address cap space again, as well as receiver Amari Cooper and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys can also gain $1.5 million in cap room by cutting punter Chris Jones, who missed the final eight games of the 2020 season on injured reserve.

Hunter Niswander replaced him and averaged 47.2 yards on 26 punts to make Jones expendable.

The bottom line is that the doomsday clock is officially starting for the Cowboys and Prescott.

If they don’t get a deal done before March 9 and have to use the franchise tag, they would have until June 15 to finalize a new deal.

It the sides are still unable to come to terms, Prescott would have to play the season on the tag and be roughly six months away from potentially leaving the Cowboys as an unrestricted free agent.

A third tag in 2022 would cost $54 million and be a nonstarter for the Cowboys.

This could possibly force the Cowboys to consider taking a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft in April.

First, however, comes intensified negotiations over the next 15 days, the tag and possible restructures to create cap room.