Last offseason, the Dallas Cowboys wanted Dak Prescott to sign a five-year contract extension. Dak preferred four. Back and forth they went, neither side budging.
Eventually Dallas slapped a franchise tag on him, giving the quarterback a $31.4 million salary for 2020, but no guarantees after that. He didn’t mind. He bet on himself.
Now Prescott is hurt, out for the year with a compound fracture of his ankle. Yet as much as Dak would prefer to make a statement, and gain leverage for future negotiations by showing what he can do on the field, he remains in very good shape heading into another offseason of contract talks.
And each week, as other NFL teams, especially in the Cowboys’ NFC East, grow frustrated with erratic quarterback play, his position improves. Perhaps a great deal.
The upcoming Prescott-Dallas contract battle will play out in one of three ways:
1. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Prescott will reach the kind of agreeable long-term deal in March (presuming the league calendar stays intact) that they failed to do last offseason. This is complicated with Prescott not playing the rest of the season. Historically, however, broken bones heal fully and even Jones said Tuesday he expects Dak to be “as good as gold.”
2. They won’t reach a deal but Jones will keep Prescott around by again hitting him with another franchise tag, this time for a $38 million salary. This is complicated due to uncertainty over the NFL salary cap, which could drop from about $200 million in 2020 to maybe $175 million in 2021 due to the coronavirus. Would, or could, Dallas pay out roughly 21 percent of its cap for Prescott?
3. Finally, Prescott could be allowed to negotiate elsewhere. Maybe the money is too great. Maybe the length of the deal is too long. Maybe backup Andy Dalton excels the rest of the season and makes Dak a little less valuable to the Cowboys.
Unless Dallas is suddenly willing to move on from Prescott — which would be the opposite of what Jones has indicated, as he said Tuesday, “we’ve got to make it work” — that is not a scenario the Cowboys should risk.
If Prescott becomes a free agent, there will be no lack of suitors for a 27-year-old who was putting up career numbers in 2020 — a 68 percent completion rating, 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns (against four interceptions). He also rushed for three touchdowns.
Dallas would be allowed to match any offer, but Prescott would find a hungry market that might be happy to overpay for him. It’s not just his on-field play that is enticing to other teams.
He is the definition of a franchise quarterback. He’s a true leader in the locker room and community, a big star who can excite fans, and a respected player across the league who might cause free agents to follow him.
The number of teams looking for a guy like that for the next four years, or whatever Prescott will sign for, is lengthy and growing with each frustrating week of play.
Indianapolis, New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Jacksonville and so on are obvious. Tampa Bay, New England, Carolina and so on might be, too. So is the rest of the NFC East, who could not only gain by adding Prescott, but at the same time hurt a division rival by taking him away.
Washington and the New York Giants have been playing the draft-a-quarterback-and-hope game for a while now. It hasn’t worked. Philadelphia may not be far behind them.
Well, here’s a near sure-thing, just sitting there. No, he isn’t Patrick Mahomes. He’s a heck of a lot better, though, than what you have. He’ll win games.
Dallas would get draft compensation back, either a first- and third-rounder or two firsts depending on classification, but there are no guarantees there. As for the team that would sign Prescott, if it is going to draft a QB in the first round anyway this offseason, the price makes sense.
All of which increases the pressure on Dallas.
The guy they wouldn’t offer a four-year deal to will almost certainly find someone who will. Premium quarterback play, let alone from a guy whose leadership a franchise can build an entire culture around, is that rare.
That means, even hobbled for the rest of the season, Dak has some juice.
Jerry Jones may be staring at a massive cap hit from a second franchise tag or just giving Prescott what he wants.
Or he can risk it. But if you're another team in need of a starting QB, watching the outpouring of support from teammates, opponents and everyone else, just made Dak Prescott’s value increase, no matter the ankle.
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