The Dallas Cowboys are entering the offseason without their starting quarterback signed for 2020. Dak Prescott, who will be in his fifth season, is not under contract once the new league year begins in March. The Cowboys and Prescott have been negotiating for almost a year now, with no deal even close to completion.
As we inch closer to the start of free agency and the period where players can be franchise-tagged (Feb. 25 to March 10), the chatter about Prescott and the Cowboys will continue to pick up until a firm decision is made. If you’re a Cowboys fan, should you be worried they aren’t fully invested in Prescott.
Prescott could be headed for a Kirk Cousins situation
The quarterback is the most valuable position in all of sports. NFL franchises routinely pay a premium for their quarterbacks — even if they aren’t elite — because you have zero chance to win without one. When teams draft and develop a young passer into an above-average player, they are giddy to have found their franchise quarterback. The player, the agent, and the team understand that for the future of all parties, signing a deal before getting to free agency is a win-win.
The Cowboys have that with Prescott, who’s coming off the best season of his career. Whether or not he’s an elite level-talent who can lead you to a Super Bowl without all the pieces being in place — like Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson — is up for consideration. What’s not up for discussion is that Dallas would be better moving forward with Prescott than without him.
That’s what makes his contract situation surprising to me. When a franchise LOVES a quarterback, it makes a deal happen. The Cowboys have clearly set their price and years on a contract and have not budged. Prescott’s camp has their number in mind and they aren’t moving either. We have a good old-fashioned contract standoff, with neither side “winning” at the moment.
This situation reminds me of Washington’s standoff with Kirk Cousins from a few years back. Washington, like Dallas, only appeared to like Cousins at a certain figure and no matter what, it wasn’t moving off that. So, both sides dug in. Cousins played two seasons for a combined $44 million under the franchise tag and then left for Minnesota in 2018. Washington has been in quarterback no man’s land since he left (even though the future could be bright with Dwayne Haskins).
The franchise tag is a no-win for both the team and the quarterback
Ideally, a team signs the quarterback for the long haul and can plan its cap and roster around that deal. It’s able to spread out the money over the life of the agreement, which allows for some roster flexibility.
From the player perspective, you want that long-term deal. I know the franchise tag is life-changing money, but it’s only a one-year deal. And while it’s rare for quarterbacks to have injuries that would cost them a career, that’s always a concern with a short contract.
So when I see a quarterback like Prescott not signed by now, I wonder how committed the team is to him.
The Cowboys reportedly offered him a deal in September worth $33 million per season, which would have made him the fifth-highest-paid player at the position. Prescott’s representatives wanted more, so it wasn’t completed. I understand why Prescott would wait to sign a deal. His side believes they have leverage with the franchise tag, Mahomes’ upcoming contract, and the possibility of a new CBA this offseason, which would raise the salaries of all players in the NFL.
Now, the Cowboys will surely franchise tag Prescott and try to work out the details of a longer deal. Dallas is entering a different phase with a new coaching staff and could be in a wait-and-see approach for this season. The Cowboys could want to get a good look at how he plays under new coach Mike McCarthy and if they don’t see what they want, they can let Prescott walk after the season. The risk, of course, is Prescott playing out of his mind and the Cowboys having to pay more than they would have previously.
The Cowboys will have Prescott in 2020, as there are no better options (no, Tom Brady isn’t coming to Dallas). The question is whether the Cowboys and Prescott’s representatives will get a long-term deal done before the season.
However, it does not feel like the Cowboys are on board with paying him more than the value they’ve assigned to him, and that’s why I believe we are heading toward another Washington-Cousins situation.