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The Dallas Cowboys Are Wasting the Luckiest QB Run in NFL History

After plucking undrafted free agent Tony Romo off the scrap heap, the Cowboys struck gold again with Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Wednesday was another step toward ending this run without a Super Bowl.

Finding two generationally talented quarterbacks between the fourth round and undrafted free agency within a span of 13 years might be football’s equivalent of winning the lottery, using that money to purchase a vacation property on barren land in Western Texas and then finding out said land contains enough oil to power a fleet of F-350s for the next 100 years.

Ending both quarterbacks’ tenures with zero Super Bowl appearances would be football’s equivalent of taking said lottery money and dropping it into the ocean on a drunken fishing trip.

Dallas took a major step toward scenario two on Wednesday by opting to let Dak Prescott go the way of Kirk Cousins and play out the 2020 season on the franchise tag. As we all know, this sets up a potentially perilous situation for Dallas, given that the floor of any contract Prescott signs from here on out becomes the 2021 franchise tag number. Because the number increases by 120% in the event of a second franchise tag and 144% in the event of a third, a healthy Prescott wields an incredible amount of leverage, while Dallas loses its ability to creatively spread out a cap hit over the course of four or five seasons.


Dak Prescott and Tony Romo in 2016, their one overlapping season as teammates.

While all indications are that Prescott is happy to be a Cowboy, this window shopping routine could eventually lead to the moment when Prescott is too expensive to franchise tag again, which means he could hit the market at a time when some other team is desperate enough to pay him the small fortune he’d be in line for. Remember, every year there is a general manager or coach with their rear end on the line, and in those moments, financial responsibility means absolutely nothing. 

Also remember: Prescott, depending on which analytical ratings service you prefer, was one of the best players in football last season. Pro Football Focus’s WAR (wins above replacement) had Prescott as the third most valuable player in the league. Football Outsiders had Dak Prescott as its No. 1 quarterback in terms of DYaR (defensive-adjusted yards above replacement). He was nearly 300 yards better than Patrick Mahomes. He was also No. 1 in their EYards (effective yards) stats, meaning that he was able to make more out of a given play than statistics indicated above any other quarterback in the league.

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Imagine being a member of the Cowboys front office and explaining to your fans three years from now, when Prescott is the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, that you felt it more important to lock up your previously-suspended running back and pay him at the top of the wage scale for a position that averages, at best, half the lifespan of a quarterback in the NFL.

In the coming weeks and months, the Cowboys, I’m assuming, will make it known that Prescott was asking for too much. Their ability to whisper to their fan base directly and make them understand that these here millionaires are robbing us of every last penny is a brilliant business strategy and has worked for the franchise for more than five decades, since long before the Joneses took over. So is their ability to convince players that they are already making more simply by virtue of being a Cowboy and working in Texas.

But that could potentially be a distraction from the fact that this was a bit of financial malpractice. Prescott is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football. He has wonderful escapability. His snap counts since entering the league as a full-time starter: 96, 99, 99 and 100%, respectively. Does that sound like the type of person who would be worried about betting on himself in order to maximize his financial leverage?

Any dread in Dallas this week may be a harbinger of what's to come. The Cowboys were overwhelmingly blessed to stumble into Tony Romo, who they nearly cut anyway, and Prescott in back-to-back quarterback cycles. Prescott, by the way, was not Dallas's preferred choice there. If you'll remember, they coveted both Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. And because of their draft status (or lack thereof in Romo's case), the Cowboys were afforded major salary cap savings in the early parts of their careers. They also avoided the NFL purgatory that is searching for a franchise quarterback when you don't have one, and they never had to spend draft capital picking an early-round QB or, even costlier, trading up for one. But despite all this, they may soon exit this era without much to actually show for it.

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