Tony Romo's contract does not allow the Cowboys to franchise him after the 2013 season. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
As the Cowboys tiptoe the salary cap line while attempting to sign free agents and make room for rookies, the team's attempt to reach a contract extension with quarterback Tony Romo has been in the background as a cap solution.
The Cowboys reportedly have only about $100,000 in salary cap space available and would be forced to sign Romo or linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer to long-term contracts, restructure more contracts or cut more players to free up enough space to sign any player.
Now Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports a detail in Romo's contract increases the urgency to extend him and strengthens the quarterback's negotiating leverage. In short: Romo can become a free agent prior to the 2014 season.
According to Rapoport's sources with indepth-knowledge of the language in Romo's contract, the Cowboys cannot place the franchise tag on Romo at the end of the league's 2013 year.
Here's why Romo would become a free agent: He technically has three years left on his current contract. Based on paragraphs 27 and 28 of the deal, however, the final two years of Romo's contract void with no action necessary from either party if he's on the Cowboys' roster by the end of the 2013 league year. So, if Romo still is on the roster at that time, he's a free agent.
That's when a team usually would issue the franchise tag.
Yet all of that occurs after the franchise-tag window has closed. So the Cowboys could not use their tag on Romo.
If the void happened during the franchise-tag window, Romo could be tagged. But it won't, so he can't. Not that the Cowboys won't try if it comes to that, but sources believe it won't work.