The Dallas Cowboys have three contract negotiations happening all at the same time. Dak Prescott, their young quarterback, is entering his fourth season and has guided the team to two division championships in his first three seasons. Amari Cooper, a first-round draft pick of the Raiders, was traded to the Cowboys last season. Upon his arrival, the offense, and more importantly Prescott, improved. Both will be free agents after this season.
The third player who wants a new deal is Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ outstanding running back. In the end, I think all three get paid, but I want to focus my attention on Prescott.
Prescott’s value and ranking among NFL quarterbacks is a fascinating debate and one that’s been waged on social media for almost three years now. It’s clearly heated up as he’s approaching an extension with the Cowboys — something everyone assumes will happen at some point.
Prescott’s traditional stats are good to great, including the results on the field. Under his leadership at quarterback, Dallas has a 32-16 record and has been to the playoffs twice. He’s completed 66 percent of his passes, he averages 7.4 yards per throw, and his passer rating is 96. He’s thrown interceptions on less than 2 percent of his passes.
For reference, all of these numbers are slightly better than Carson Wentz’s. And there’s the rub.
How Prescott really stacks up to Wentz
Prescott often gets compared to Wentz because they were in the same draft class and play in the same division. Wentz recently got a four-year, $128 million deal, with $66 million fully guaranteed. That’s $32 million per season.
With Prescott winning more games on the field, and having slightly better traditional quarterback numbers, the argument can be made he’s “better” than Wentz and therefore should get more money. Also, Prescott has been healthy while Wentz has ended the last two seasons on IR.
However, when you dig into advanced stats, it’s clear Wentz is much better. According to Football Outsiders, Prescott’s best season was in 2016, his first in the NFL. Remember, he was dropped into the perfect situation as a rookie. That offense was tailor-made for a young quarterback: the best offensive line in football since the early 2000s Chiefs, and skill position players to match.
Prescott played well, much better than Wentz. But, since that season, Wentz has been much better.
Prescott vs. Wentz advanced stats rankings in 2017
Prescott vs. Wentz advanced stats rankings in 2018
(Both DVOA and DYAR measure a quarterback’s value compared to others at his position, factoring in the situation and opponents. QBR takes into account all the ways the quarterback affects the outcome of the game.)
Well, I have these numbers, and so do the Cowboys. That’s why when it was reported they offered Prescott a deal around $30 million a season — which is a touch less than Wentz’s new numbers — no one should’ve been surprised. Besides paying Prescott, the Cowboys have Elliott and Cooper to worry about, and more down the road. Plus, this is how negotiations work.
Prescott turned down the deal because he’s asking for more per season, and we don’t know how much guaranteed money was involved. Prescott has leverage — or so he thinks.
This is where it gets interesting.
What if the Cowboys let Prescott play out his current deal?
Let’s start here: I think Dallas and Prescott end up agreeing on a new contract and he’s a “Cowboy for Life.” But, that’s no fun to discuss. What’s more fun to discuss is whether or not he has real leverage.
The leverage he has over the Cowboys is the future. The Cowboys have an extremely talented roster and they are young. If Prescott turns into the elite quarterback Dallas hopes he is this season, then the team is set up for a bright future, with Super Bowl appearances probably forthcoming.
If the Cowboys don’t have Prescott after this season, then it’s clear there’s a gaping hole at quarterback they’ll have to fill. That’s the leverage he has.
But what if the Cowboys call his bluff and pull the offer? What if they pay Elliott and Cooper, and then trade up for Justin Herbert in the 2020 draft? That would be juicy!
Let’s imagine Prescott is the same player in 2019 and now he’s free to sign with another team in 2020. Would anyone pay him $30 million? First we must examine who’d need a quarterback next season — and it’s a short list.
I’d guess the Bengals don’t re-sign Andy Dalton. So there’s one team. The Dolphins could be in the market if Josh Rosen doesn’t pan out. Maybe the Titans and/or Bucs move on from Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. I’m not sure how much Jon Gruden loves Derek Carr, so maybe the Raiders will be looking for a franchise quarterback.
I can only imagine the Titans wanting to sign a veteran quarterback, since they might be the closest to winning in 2020 out of this batch. Otherwise, the rest of those teams are drafting a young quarterback, especially with a strong QB class in the next draft. And, we’ve seen the best way to build for a Super Bowl is with a stud quarterback on a rookie deal and not paying a free agent QB a ton of money.
So there wouldn’t be many obvious candidates to pay Prescott the amount he wants.
On the other hand, what if Prescott has a Joe Flacco-type of season? He wins a Super Bowl in his free agency season, like Flacco did in 2012 with the Ravens. We were having this same discussion about Flacco then as we are having with Prescott now. Winning that Super Bowl would force the Cowboys to pay whatever price Prescott was asking. So, this would be a risk if the Cowboys let him ride out this season.
To wrap this up, I think Prescott signs with the Cowboys before the end of camp. I’d guess he gets very close to the Wentz average per season. Prescott is a terrific leader and he’s liked by Jerry Jones. While some of the advanced stats show a different picture, he does win games, which in the end is what’s most important.