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Why the Cowboys would be right to pay Dak Prescott $30 million per year

It’s Dak Prescott’s turn to get the bag — and he’s earned it.

The Cowboys found something rare in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft: a legitimate franchise quarterback.

Dak Prescott was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie after Tony Romo injured his back in a preseason game, and he hasn’t looked back. With Prescott as the starter, the Cowboys have won the NFC East two of the past three seasons, something they only did twice in the eight seasons before Prescott arrived.

With Prescott’s rookie deal expiring after the 2019 season, he’ll be jumping from a contract that averages less than $700,000 per year to a market rate extension that could raise a few eyebrows. That’s not going to be easy for Dallas to navigate in the coming years, but it’s the cost of doing business.

Prescott doesn’t post gaudy stat lines every week, but that’s OK. He’s a key reason why the Cowboys have won 32 regular season games and one playoff game since 2016. Franchise quarterbacks can be hard to find — and Dallas has one worth the price tag.

All signs are pointing to the Cowboys extending Dak Prescott

While plenty of debates can be had about how good Prescott is, there’s no debating the mutual interest between Prescott and the Cowboys to get a deal done.

Prescott has already stated that he wants to be in Dallas for the rest of his career. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he’s committed to Prescott and that he sees “real upside” in the fourth-year quarterback.

Prescott’s contract is rumored to approach $30 million per year, according to Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Prescott’s agent has reportedly “broached a deal in the range of $34 million annually.”

That’s a large amount, but quarterbacks are always end up getting paid and it’s not like Dallas has any other options to turn to on the roster — Cooper Rush and Mike White aren’t exactly threatening Prescott for his job.

It’s also worth mentioning that Prescott is statistically close to the last quarterback who got a long-term deal from Dallas. Blogging the Boys writer RJ Ochoa noted that Prescott’s resume compares well to Tony Romo’s when Romo signed a six-year extension prior to the 2013 season. Romo and Prescott have different styles of play, but their passer rating, completion percentage, and passing touchdowns were almost identical in the three years before they were paid.

Prescott’s stats 2016-18: 96 passer rating, 66.1% completion percentage, 67 passing touchdowns, 7.52 adjusted yards per attempt
Tony Romo’s stats 2010-12: 95.7 passer rating, 66.4% completion percentage, 70 passing touchdowns, 7.57 adjusted yards per attempt

Romo did play 10 fewer games than Prescott, but their passer rating, completion percentage, and adjusted yards per attempt are about the same. Prescott also scored 16 more rushing touchdowns than Romo.

Overall, Prescott still has a long way to go to catch Romo, the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, but he’s off to a good start. Now it’s Prescott’s turn to cash in on three productive years in the league.

Dak Prescott has had similar production to Carson Wentz and Jared Goff

Prescott doesn’t just look good when compared to Romo; he also compares favorably to Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, the other prominent quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL Draft.

Despite being the 135th pick, Prescott has performed on par with Goff and Wentz — respectively, the first and second overall pick in that draft. Here’s how the three of them compare in a handful of stats since 2016.

Goff vs Wentz vs Precott 2016-18

Quarterback Passer Rating Yards Per Attempt Adjusted Yards Per Attempt Rushing Yards Yards Per Carry Rushing TDs Record
Quarterback Passer Rating Yards Per Attempt Adjusted Yards Per Attempt Rushing Yards Yards Per Carry Rushing TDs Record
Jared Goff 94.7 7.7 7.8 175 2.2 4 24-14
Carson Wentz 92.5 7 7.1 542 3.8 2 23-17
Dak Prescott 96 7.4 7.5 944 5 18 32-16

Prescott is the only one to play in every game since the start of the 2016 season. Wentz has dealt with a torn ACL and a back injury that’s caused him to miss time. Goff didn’t make his first start until Week 11 in his rookie year.

Like Prescott, Wentz and Goff are both in store for big paydays. But because Wentz and Goff were first-round picks, their teams were able to exercise a cost-controlled fifth-year option. That means they’re not due for a new contract for at least another year — though Wentz’s extension might come before the 2019 season.

Since the three quarterbacks entered the league, Prescott’s team is the only one that hasn’t made the Super Bowl, but that can come with a more stable passing game. While Prescott and the Cowboys haven’t quite figured out how to create a consistent passing attack, they can still lean on him to be a weapon on the ground.

Prescott’s running ability makes him a versatile weapon

Part of what makes Prescott valuable to the Cowboys’ offense is his contributions to the running game. Since the start of the 2016 season, Prescott’s 18 rushing touchdowns are tied for 14th among all NFL players. His ability to run and score on the ground allows Dallas to sprinkle in some option plays into its offense.

Here’s an example from their 40-7 win over the Jaguars last season. This is a pretty standard read option play. Prescott is making his decision to keep the ball or hand it off to Ezekiel Elliott based on what the defensive end does. The defensive end attacks Elliott, leaving a huge lane for Prescott to score a touchdown on the ground.

Prescott’s mobility also gives him the chance to create on his own when the original structure of plays begin to break down. Last year against Washington, Prescott executed a chaotic scramble for a touchdown that showed off his playmaking ability.

He spins out of a sack, dodges another incoming defender, and sees a crease in the defense where he can score a diving touchdown.

Having a quarterback who can run gives the Cowboys more options on offense. Even when the passing game isn’t consistently generating plays, Prescott can still create his own offense in tough spots.

That doesn’t mean Prescott isn’t capable of leading an explosive passing attack — he just needs a little help.

Dallas needs to continue to add playmakers for Prescott

Prescott needing weapons at receiver isn’t a real indictment on his abilities — a lot of the top quarterbacks have receivers they can depend on. Matt Ryan has Julio Jones, Aaron Rodgers has Davante Adams, Drew Brees has Michael Thomas — it takes more than just a quarterback to lead a great passing game.

The Cowboys saw the effect that a No. 1 receiver can have on an offense in the second half of last season. After they traded a first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper, their passing game took off.

In nine games with Cooper, Prescott’s passer rating jumped from 87.4 to 103, and his adjusted yards per attempt climbed from 6.79 to 8.03. Both of those figures would have ranked in the top 10 if they were stretched out for the entire 2018 season.

Cooper gave Prescott the big-play weapon that he needed. Cooper helped the Cowboys unlock their quick passing game due to how explosive he is with the ball in his hands. Here’s an example from the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game against Washington last season.

Cooper beats the cornerback in man coverage, creates separation, and then races in for a touchdown.

Prescott is sneakily a good downfield passer too. On throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, the Prescott was sixth in the NFL in passer rating, seventh in touchdown percentage, and only threw two interceptions. With a full offseason together, Cooper could become a dangerous downfield target for Prescott.

The Cowboys are working on a contract extension with Cooper that would hopefully give them a formidable offensive duo for years to come. Cooper is the best receiver Prescott has had to work with since Dez Bryant — albeit a diminished version of Bryant — in 2016.

Giving Prescott and Cooper the money they’ll be asking for is going to be hard on Dallas’ cap situation. But in the case of Prescott, his contract will quickly become a bargain in the coming seasons.

$30 million is a lot of money to pay one player, but the cap is still rising

Quarterback contracts are only going to get more expensive. This is due to the rising cap and quarterbacks around the league receiving long-term deals every year.

Prescott’s rumored $30 million per year deal would fall right in line with what the Falcons paid Matt Ryan in May last year. At the time, Ryan was the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL — that deal has already been surpassed three times in just over a year. Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers have all eclipsed that $30 million average with recent extensions.

When Andrew Luck signed a deal worth an average of roughly $24.6 million per year prior to the 2016 season, he was the highest-paid quarterback in the league. Just three years later, that figure is 10th in the NFL and $10 million less per season than Russell Wilson, the league’s current highest-paid quarterback.

Paying Prescott his $30 million may seem like a hefty price tag for a quarterback with just one playoff win, but it will quickly look like a reasonable cap figure as other quarterbacks reach their payday. Luck, Goff, Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson are a few quarterbacks who will likely surpass that number in the next two to three years.

A deal between Prescott and the Cowboys just makes too much sense. He’s a 25-year-old franchise quarterback who has a young receiver he can continue to grow with on the field. Prescott has shown that he can lead an efficient passing game if he has enough pieces, and he can also produce on the ground.

At some point this offseason, Dallas will sign him to a long-term deal. Some people will question the high price, but the Cowboys don’t really have a choice. Talented quarterbacks with proven success are hard to come by — letting Prescott walk and trying to strike gold again in the draft isn’t a realistic option. Prescott has earned this deal, and he can keep the Cowboys playoff-relevant for years to come.