Dak Prescott now sitting more securely in the pocket than the Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott hit the NFL lottery on June 22. The same may not be true for his employer, the Dallas Cowboys.
On that day, Prescott reluctantly signed the franchise tag tender offer Dallas used to retain control over his services this season, a move that guaranteed him $31.4 million in 2020. More importantly, it put the Cowboys in a bind.
If they fail to come up with a long-term agreement, which they did this week, that number was going to hit their cap like an avalanche and could be followed by an estimated $37.68 million-dollar hit next year if they are forced to again tag him to keep him in their huddle. Prescott and his agent may not view that as long-term security, but few others, inside or outside professional sports, would agree with them.
The Cowboys’ talented, soon-to-be 27-year-old quarterback was seeking a four-year deal that could have left him in the same yearly salary range as Patrick Mahomes, who just signed a stunning $500- million, 10-year contract, and exceed the extension of the Rams’ Jared Goff, who signed a four-year, $134 million extension with $110 million in guarantees a year ago that averages $33.5 million a season.
Dallas was willing to exceed Goff’s contract but was insistent upon a five-year contract that Prescott feared would leave him well behind the swelling quarterback market by the end of its term. Prescott insisted on a four-year length while Dallas’ owner Jerry Jones dug in on five, leading to an impasse that reportedly resulted in no real negotiations since March.
This led to a fumble that put Prescott in position to become only the third starting quarterback to go into a season playing under a franchise tag. The others were Drew Brees in San Diego in 2005 and Kirk Cousins in Washington in 2016 and 2017. In the end both of those players walked, their teams unable and unwilling to retain their services. Could this happen to Prescott as well? Perhaps so.
If Dallas has to tag him again next season, something it actually can do for the next three years if it chooses, it would cost the team $37.68 million, meaning Jones would have spent $69.08 million on one position in two years. If the Cowboys did it for an unprecedented third time in 2022 the estimated cost would be a cap-busting $54.2 million, a three-year payment to Prescott of over $123 million. If things were to play out that way Prescott would have earned an average of slightly more than $40 million GUARANTEED over the three-year period of 2020-2022.
If that’s not security, Dak needs a new accountant.
Still, few players like to play the lottery that is the franchise tag because while one-year’s salary is guaranteed the long shadow of career-ending injury lurks, and the uncertainty of where you’ll be a year from now often begins to create bad blood between the player and his team.
No one can know the long-term ramifications of Dallas’ failure to sign Prescott to a long-term contract this offseason, but one can be sure it won’t improve relations with Jones, who never had this kind of economic impasse with either Troy Aikman or Tony Romo.
Prescott, on the other hand, is probably looking at the Chiefs and thinking: “They could fork over $500 million to Mahomes, and Jerry can’t give me a competitive four-year deal? I’ve just been disrespected!’’
The truth is Jones could have, but he didn’t despite the fact Prescott had a career year last season, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. Why? Perhaps because despite those improved numbers the Cowboys were an 8-8 team that failed to make the playoffs while Mahomes led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship in only his second season as a starter in Kansas City.
Winners get paid. Losers get tagged.
Whatever Jones’ reasoning there is a day of reckoning looming as dark clouds form over Dallas. Prescott declined to participate in the team’s virtual off-season program despite the fact that a new head coach, Mike McCarthy, has taken over. He also had to be stewing over the fact Jones recently spent over $400 million to retain five other players long-term. None play the game’s most important position – Dak’s position.
On the flip side, Jones cannot be happy having been forced to pay Prescott the highest salary in Cowboys’ history without retaining any long-term hold on his services. As salary figures for NFL players in general and quarterbacks in particular spiral into the ionosphere these kind of conflicts figure to grow around the league. In fact, 12 players will play under tag figures this season, the most in league history. The previous high was nine in both 2009 and 2012.
Yet with the cap likely to be flat next season and possibly shrinking because of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on gate receipts and ancillary income, the scene in Dallas has to be an uncomfortable one. No team wins any more without a top-shelf quarterback, and no top-shelf quarterback will agree to sign a long-term deal that isn’t in the Mahomes level or exceeds it.
For Dallas and Dak, the price tag can only go up unless he fails miserably in 2020, which Jones doesn’t want either. Regardless of how this all works out Prescott secured one thing on June 22 whether he fully realizes it or not: He has more financial security now than Jerry Jones has football security.