UPDATE (1 p.m.): The Cowboys have placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Dez Bryant.

By Mike Fisher | @fishsports

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IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) — And maybe now more than ever, you understand why Dez Bryant has attempted to keep a low public profile during the controversy of “The Walmart Unicorn Video.” With all the irrational and irresponsible accusatory bullets flying, why should he even poke his head out of the foxhole?

Dez has restrained himself from much comment on purpose for that reason, and also because he and the Cowboys are actually busy with business; Cowboys COO Stephen Jones tells us to expect the team to to apply the franchise tag to its star wide receiver by today’s 3 p.m. deadline, and Dez is aware that it’s coming … but we all need to also be aware that it only marks the beginning of negotiations that started accelerating again last Tuesday.

“I still think that it probably would be a stretch to think that we would have (a “Cowboys For Life” contract) done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline,” Jones said. “It looks like we’re eying a franchise tag on Dez, but (that) certainly won’t stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal.”

In fact, while Dallas and Dez were very close to a done deal last October, Bryant’s change of agents slowed the pace — until last Tuesday, when both parties started anew.

“Jerry and myself actually had a meeting with Tom Condon, his agent, Tuesday night,” Jones said. “Had a good long visit.”

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The two sides spoke again on Friday about the “placeholder” that is the tag, which will pay Bryant a guaranteed $12.8 million for the season if not lifted.

We’ve predicted that “deadlines make deals” (Jerry’s own oft-spoken words) and today is one of those deadlines. But it’s the beginning, not the end. Dallas needs to be cap-compliant on March 10. A long-term deal can be negotiated all the way to July 15 before the tag sticks for the year.

Bryant has expressed unhappiness with the idea of the tag. But we’ve stressed — and Jones made it clear with us — the club is tagging Bryant to buy more negotiating time.

“We just don’t want to lose his rights,” said Jones. “We think Dez is a unique player and certainly a big part of what we do in terms of what we’ve done, our success, and certainly going forward. We’ve got a long period of time there where we can work, continue to work on doing something long term for Dez.”

That work increases now. Hopefully the irrational and irresponsible bullets won’t.

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