The NFC East is in the midst of an interesting inverted divisional race. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins are all battling to get the best pick in the draft. That, of course, requires they be the worst team in the league. Can they do it?
Don’t bet against them.
As of this morning the Jets hold the top spot among the bottom feeders with a 0-9 record that they’ve shown few signs of changing. For example, when they realized they might have a chance to beat the New England Patriots last weekend after stopping them on a critical third down that forced a field goal late in the game they immediately lined up with 12 men on the field.
First down, Patriots.
Plays like that can go a long way toward preserving the inside rail in the race for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields because they show not only an absence of talent on the field but an absence of brain power in the coaches’ office. That’s a dual threat that is tough to beat. But the NFC is ready to meet that challenge.
Right behind the Jets in the battle for cellar dweller comes the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars, but they often look like a team that has a pulse. One can hardly say the same about the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins, who are all 2-7 and tied for either second place or last place in the NFC LEast, depending on your perspective.
This week both owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen, who is the Cowboys’ executive vice-president, assured Cowboys' fans that they love Dak Prescott, even with a broken ankle. They didn’t love him enough to give him the kind of long-term contract he wanted last offseason, but with their team down and Prescott out with a broken ankle the Jones Boys wanted to assure the world that Dallas would never think of drafting another quarterback if they end up beating out the Jets, Jags and most of their division for a suite in the cellar.
“Yes," Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas when asked if it was crazy to suggest Dallas might go after Lawrence or Fields in the draft next spring. "You're asking me: Is it crazy to bring the idea up? And I'm answering it, yes. We're playing games here, guys, but it's not the thing to be talking about here at all. You know, Dak is our quarterback."
Actually, you know, Dak isn’t.
Dak is out for the year with a gruesomely shattered ankle, and while he’s likely to have a full recovery by next season one never knows. All one really knows is that Jones had a chance last off-season to lockup Prescott long-term when he was still healthy and told him, “I’ll el paso.’’
The Giants just invested a high pick in struggling quarterback Daniel Jones, and as shaky as he’s seemed it’s hard to believe they’d give up on him two years into his career. Washington, if it can lose often enough to bypass its friends at the bottom of the NFC LEast, plus the Jets and Jags, certainly would grab one of those two quarterbacks. So there’s no reason to ask. Most likely they’ll grab the wrong one, but that’s a Daniel Snyder story for another day.
Which gets us back to the question of the moment: If the Cowboys continue to sink and end up with the first or second pick in 2021 will they dump Prescott, who threw for 4,902 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions last season while standing on two good ankles, for the new girl in class?
The answer to that is easy. As Deep Throat told the reporters who broke the Watergate story, “Follow the money’’ and where the money leads is not to Dak Prescott being in Dallas next season if the Cowboys can fall far enough to take Lawrence or Fields.
Prescott was guaranteed $31.4 million on the franchise tag this season. When the two sides could not come to an agreement on length of contract, Jones slapped the tag on him and basically said “We’ll see what happens.’’ Now he’s in a cast and his future is uncertain. More importantly, his bargaining position this offseason will be weakened, not that Jerry would ever use that against him, right?
Should the Cowboys use the franchise tag on him again in 2021, it would cost Dallas $37.7 million. The Cowboys offered Prescott a five-year deal that approached nearly $35 million a year and included a $50-million signing bonus and $111 million in guaranteed money last off season, and he said “No thanks’’ and gambled on himself.
He lost that gamble when his ankle snapped, and it seems unlikely Jones would tag him again or offer the same deal he already turned down if he can pick off Lawrence or Fields with the draft’s first or second pick. Why, you ask?
Follow the money.
A top-five pick in the 2021 draft would get a maximum four-year contract worth around $40 million guaranteed, plus a fifth-year option. So Dallas could have complete control of its quarterback for the next five years at a price that has them on the hook for less than half of the guaranteed money Prescott will likely demand and, probably, command.
So is it crazy to think Jerry Jones, the ultimate businessman, would dump a proven commodity with a bum ankle for an untested rookie who has been lighting up college football for a year or two?
If he’s in position to do it. Crazy if he doesn’t, frankly.