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Cowboys contemplate using franchise tag on Dez Bryant, but continue to work on long-term deal

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Dallas Cowboys are still trying to come up with the perfect pitch to Dez Bryant.

With free agency looming and a March 2 deadline to use their franchise tag, the Cowboys are still debating whether to put the tag on Bryant, their top receiver, even as they try to work out a long-term deal. They still hope to keep running back DeMarco Murray, and they're hoping to find enough cap room to do both.

"We're usually able to accomplish what we need to accomplish and the question just becomes strategy," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told a small group of reporters Tuesday. "Do you want to push money out in order to have money now? We'll just have to make good, sound decisions."

Dallas' most pressing decision involves Bryant, who can become an unrestricted free agent in three weeks. Last season, the 26-year-old receiver had 88 catches, 1,320 yards and a league-high 16 TD receptions.

The presumption has been that if the NFC East champs can't work out a long-term deal with Bryant, they will use the one-year tag. In that case, Bryant would likely get $12 to $13 million — a hefty price tag for a team that is trying to fit a high-priced quarterback, a top receiver and the NFL's leading rusher under a salary cap projected to come in at about $140 million.

Stephen Jones said the Cowboys have been talking to Bryant's agent, Tom Condon. They plan to meet in Indianapolis during this week's NFL's annual scouting combine.

If the sides can work out a more cap-friendly deal, the Cowboys could finally hit the trifecta — keeping Bryant, Murray and Tony Romo together for several more seasons.

But Bryant is already starting to show signs of frustration.

"I wish They felt the same way but it's cool," Bryant posted Tuesday on Twitter, responding to a fan who wrote he loved the way Bryant was dedicated to the Cowboys.

Either way, Dallas is committed to keeping Bryant. And if the Cowboys do use the tag, Jones said he expects Bryant "will be a pro and he'll play."

"If we don't get a deal, it just shows how much we're committed to him," Jones said. "We don't want to expose him."

The other decisions may have to wait.

Murray, too, can become an unrestricted free agent and the Cowboys are scrambling to do their homework before making a decision.

"Everything comes into play. What backs historically do. How many backs go on and play well after they're 27? Which ones consistently do it from start to finish?" Jones said. "Those are the things you have to weigh."

The other option would be freeing up cap space by redoing other contracts, such as Romo's big deal, or cutting high-priced veterans.

"I'm not going to get into any detail like that right now," Jones said before acknowledging that he believes Romo still has a lot of football left in him. "We know what our options are and we're just, as we move forward, we'll get more definitive as to who we're going to be working with and we'll make those decisions."

Notes: Dallas announced Tuesday that it had signed offensive linemen Ronald Leary and Darrion Weems. Both were exclusive free agents. ... Jones said he believes the Cowboys will come in with the requisite four-year average toward the salary cap and will avoid being penalized for underspending. ... Jones also is on the competition committee, which had a preliminary meeting Tuesday, but like others in the room declined to say what had been discussed. One thing he said had not come up yet was the definition of a catch. The Cowboys' season came to an end last month when Bryant appeared to catch a pass from Romo. The ball came loose when he hit the ground and the play was reversed to an incompletion following a replay challenge.


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