For much of the past year, quarterback Dak Prescott has refused to bow to a campaign by the Cowboys to get him to take less. It has culminated most recently in Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith — who held out for two regular-season games in order to get paid in 1993 — joining the “Take Less” brigade.
Dak shouldn’t take less. And the fact that he has held firm in the face of the pressure for this long strongly suggests that he won’t take less.
Now that his rookie contract has expired, the Cowboys can sign him to a long-term deal, apply the non-exclusive franchise tag (roughly $27 million for 2020, guaranteeing a right to match and two first-round picks as compensation if they don’t), apply the exclusive franchise tag ($33.4 million for 2020, with no ability to talk to other teams), apply the transition tag (guaranteeing the Cowboys a right to match with no compensation), or let him hit the open market.
The Cowboys don’t want him to hit the open market, because they don’t want to compete with other teams for his services. Thus, the Cowboys undoubtedly will use a tag (most likely one of the two versions of the franchise tag) to keep Dak from the open market.
And that’s fine. They have the right to do that under the labor deal. But once they activate that process, Dak has rights, too.
He’s not under contract until he signs the tender. Thus, Dak has the right to stay away from all activities in the offseason, training camp, and preseason, waiting until only a few days before the start of the regular season to accept the one-year salary and earn every penny of it.
That’s his right. That’s his leverage. And he has that right and that leverage only after the Cowboys choose to apply the franchise tag.
Dak’s leverage also includes continuing to refuse to sign a long-term deal. If the Cowboys opt for the exclusive franchise tender, he can earn $33.4 million this year, $40 million next year, and then either $57 million in 2020 or getting a ticket to the open market.
That’s every player’s right, and that’s his leverage if/when his team decides to restrict his movement with the franchise tag. And that’s why the franchise tag doesn’t need to be scrapped. Players have power, more power than most are willing to exercise.
And, inexplicably, fans continue to shrug at teams exercising their power under the CBA but to resent the players who do so. It makes no sense; the owners will hold equity in their franchises indefinitely, but the players have finite careers, limited opportunities to cash in, and no ownership stake.
Players like Dak have highly marketable skills, from which their teams greatly benefit. And because all teams have engineered a system that lets them squat on their best players, those best players on which the teams squat should be willing to use their power and leverage in order to get the best deals they can.
It’s not for the players to manage a team’s salary cap. It’s for the teams to manage their salary caps. It’s for the players to get paid, and it’s definitely not for them to “take less” in order to help a team that already has plenty of avenues for keeping spending under the maximum — including a bargain-basement rookie wage scale that gives teams the ability to grossly underpay for four years players like Dak, who went from fourth-round pick to 64-game starter.
With his four-year commitment to the team now completed, Dak has every right to bend the rules in his favor to get the most he can, in the same way the Cowboys bent the rules in their favor to get the most they could out of Dak. And if the Cowboys don’t like the power that Dak will have if the Cowboys use the franchise tag, then they shouldn’t use the franchise tag, let Dak see what else is out there, and make him an offer as good as better than what any other team would pay.
That’s where the earning power of being the Dallas quarterback truly matters. If a team like the Chargers or Colts or Titans or Buccaneers make him an offer based on the dynamics of the open market, Dak is smart enough to factor his marketing value if he stays in Dallas when comparing the Cowboys’ best offer to the best offers that come from other teams.
But the Cowboys don’t want it to come to that, and they’re planning to use their power under the CBA to keep that from happening. If they do, Dak has power, too. And if the Cowboys won’t be hesitating to use their power, Dak shouldn’t hesitate to use his, either.