During Friday’s PFT Live, Big Cat and I spent some time making sense of the current status of the negotiations between Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. And Big Cat, as he
often sometimes seldom does, raised an intriguing point: If, as Big Cat explained it, the Cowboys were sold on Prescott, a long-term deal already would be done.
It’s intriguing because, if Prescott were, say, Patrick Mahomes, a deal surely would be done by now. But Prescott isn’t Mahomes, the consensus best quarterback in football. It’s unclear whether Dak even fits within the top five, given that players like Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers have viable claims for the other four spots.
Although the thought is intriguing, the proof regarding the Cowboys’ regard for Prescott is hiding in plain sight, with their use of the most expensive option for keeping him from leaving.
The Cowboys could have allowed Prescott to become a free agent in March, letting a market flush with alternative options sort out Dak’s value. What would he have gotten if available along with the likes of Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, and others? $35 million per year? More? Less?
The Cowboys also could have used the transition tag, at $24.8 million, giving them the right to match an offer sheet that Dak could have signed with another team. Likewise, the Cowboys could have used the non-exclusive franchise tag, giving them a right to match or two first-round draft picks at a one-year tender of $26.8 million.
Instead, the Cowboys opted to apply the Cadillac version of the franchise tag, the exclusive level that keeps Dak away from the market completely — and that pays him $31.4 million for one season. That gesture, an offer to pay him $31.4 million for 16 games (i.e., $1.9625 million per game), proves that the Cowboys believe in Dak. The fact that Cowboys COO Stephen Jones has conclusively ruled out rescinding the tag underscores their affinity for him.
Consider for a moment the implications of removing the tender, if the Cowboys can’t work out a long-term deal with Dak before the July 15 deadline. Would anyone at that point offer him anything close to $31.4 million for 2020? Would he even begin to approach $35 million per year on a multi-year deal? It’s essentially a nuclear option for the Cowboys, but they’re not willing to even open the silo and remind Dak of the presence of the missile.
The Cowboys aren’t willing to play that game with Dak because they want him to be their quarterback well into the future, and they embraced the highest level of the franchise tag in order to ensure that he’ll still be with the team in 2020.
By doing so, they’ve also walked into a potential quagmire in 2021, with a franchise tag of $37.68 million on the docket if they tag him again.
Despite the absence of a long-term deal, the team’s decision to embark on a year-to-year path that gives Dak ample leverage and that makes a long-term deal far more expensive proves that the Cowboys place a very high value on Dak. It also makes even more glaring the failure to get him signed to a multi-year deal the moment the window on a second contract opened in early 2019. Whatever the price now, the price would have been much lower if Dak had been signed with a full season of injury risk remaining under his rookie deal.
While the Cowboys surely hold out hope (they probably shouldn’t hold their breath) that Dak will do a team-friendly deal, they’ve decided that Dak is clearly their guy, and they’ve put their money where their mouth is with a $31.4 million offer for 2020 and a refusal to consider taking that offer off the table.