Dak Prescott is the Cowboys franchise quarterback. Whether fans like it or not, as long as we realize he’s going to be the guy - then, at least we know what’s coming. The team has believed in this kid early and they haven’t let up. It started with not giving a healthy Tony Romo his job back as the Cowboys were primed for a big playoff run in 2016 behind the rookie. It’s continued with roster changes that has included a complete makeover of the wide receiver position group. And let’s not forget the quick climb up the ladder of Kellen Moore. A guy who was once ahead of Dak on the depth chart, then behind him, then coaching him, and now is in control of the offense he runs. Moore has been Prescott’s assistant-to-the-regional-manager essentially all throughout Dak’s career.
Being an NFL starting quarterback is a big deal and it’s even bigger if they play for the Dallas Cowboys. The organization has had some true greats behind center and now Dak is trying to follow in their footsteps. Players like Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Tony Romo have all brought excitement to different generations of Cowboys fans, but they weren’t stars right away.
Staubach spent four years in the navy before joining the Cowboys and when he finally got there, he was in a time-share with Craig Morton. What was Tom Landry thinking?
Aikman endured some rough times before he won three Super Bowls in four years. He started out with two losing seasons as the team was rebuilding and the head coach actually considered trading him in favor of Steve Walsh. What was Jimmy Johnson thinking?
And then there’s Romo who spent his first two years holding a clipboard and mastering the fine art of holding for the kicker. He was behind quarterbacks like Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, Quincy Carter, Drew Henson, and Chad Hutchinson. If you’ve watched Tony Romo’s A Football Life, then you know how close he came to his time ending in Dallas before it even got started. What was Bill Parcells thinking? Actually, what he was thinking was - Romo wasn’t ready yet because he still needed developing. Fortunately for us, he kept him around and Romo finished his NFL career the Cowboys franchise leaders in yards and touchdown passes.
So, if some are apprehensive about Dak being the future of this franchise, that’s understandable, but while these other quarterbacks had their own trials and tribulations early on, Prescott’s resumé looks pretty darn good so far. He’s started all 48 games and has led the Cowboys to three-straight winning seasons. He’s had 15 game-winning drives (most in the NFL). He’s made an impact with his legs as well as he’s had 19 rushing touchdowns (most in the NFL). And no quarterback in the NFC has more wins than Prescott since entering the league in 2016. Why wouldn’t the team want this guy as their quarterback for years to come?
The Cowboys are going to invest in Prescott, it’s just a matter of when and for how much. The first part of this could be answered this summer if they can work out a contract extension. If the team is committed to Prescott, then it would be wise to extend him.
How much will it cost to pay Prescott? Looking at the contracts of the top paid quarterbacks can be tricky. First off, the deals are done at different points in time when the salary cap was at different values. The Indianapolis Colts made Andrew Luck the highest paid quarterback in the league in 2016, but just two years later - he was down to eighth on the list. New deals with new caps produce bigger contracts.
Another thing to take into account when examining contracts is where that player is at in their contract. If they’re getting their second contract, they typically fall into their own group whereas proven veterans demand something a little bigger. Looking at these top paid quarterbacks, we were able to identify some similarities and this can help us estimate Dak’s new deal.
There are four groups to consider:
Group #1 - The Aaron “Freaking” Rodgers group
If you’re the best quarterback in the league and carry your team year-in and year-out, then you deserve to consume almost 20% of your team’s salary cap. Very few quarterbacks fall into this group, but Aaron Rodgers is a special player.
A similar contract this season would run the average salary to $35 million a year. Prescott will not commanding this much money.
Group #2 - The veteran gunslingers on their third contract
A lot of people will try to convince you that Prescott is just as good as veteran quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford and deserve to be paid as much as those guys. I would tap the breaks on that one as there are a couple of factors to consider. These guys had a nice body of work when their extension took effect. Ryan has now had eight consecutive 4,000+ yards seasons. In two of the last three, he’s came close to hitting 5,000 yards, including his MVP season in 2016. Stafford had a down year this past season, but prior to signing his extension last year, he was coming off of seven consecutive 4,000+ seasons.
Their teams know what they have in those guys. They can throw the ball down the field. Prescott hasn’t eclipsed the 4,000+ mark in any of his first three seasons, but neither did Ryan at that point in his career. In fact, both Ryan and Prescott have very similar numbers after their first three years in the league.
Both Ryan and Stafford’s new deals took up over 16% of the cap space. If Dak cost that much, his average salary would come in at $31.5 million per year. Prescott hasn’t demonstrated enough to fall in this bracket; that’s still too much.
Group #3 - Rising stars who are true free agents
Franchise quarterbacks are huge commodities so it’s not shocking when those without one shell out a good chunk of change to get them. That is what the Minnesota Vikings did to land Kirk Cousins. And San Francisco wanted Jimmy Garoppolo so bad that they traded away a draft pick to get him despite only having two career NFL starts under his belt. They then turned around and signed him to a five-year, $137 million deal.
The thing with both these guys is they didn’t sign extensions. They were actual free agents who had several other teams interested in their services. This drives their price up. The Vikings were the highest bidders on Cousins and the 49ers weren’t going to let Garoppolo get away after winning all five of his games to end the 2017 season.
Their deals are right at the 16% cap mark. Prescott could end up with a similar deal and with the current cap, that would give him an annual salary of $30 million.
Group #4 - Rising starts looking for an extension
True free agents can demand a big payday, but it’s a little harder if they’re still under contract. And some of these contracts are rather small if the players are taken later in the draft. So when they have an opportunity to cash in on their big contract a year early, that’s a good deal. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr got contract extensions entering the final year of their rookie contract. It’s good for the player as they don’t have to wait as long for their bank accounts to suddenly become really large. It’s also good for the organization because they now get a future contract for the current-year price. Not only that, but they can now shift their signing bonus to the current year, reducing their cap hit later.
This is the group Dak falls into. If he is worth 15% of the team’s cap space, that’s going to equal a deal that brings in $28.5 million annually. In the news, he’ll be announced as the third-highest paid quarterback in the league. And he will be. But he’ll also be just like other rising star quarterbacks before him that signs a new deal before his contract expires.
PREDICTION: Five-year, $142.5 million (average = $28.5 million), $20 million signing bonus
If you don’t think Dak deserves to be in that top tier of quarterbacks, fine. He doesn’t. But he’s still a good quarterback who has a lot of potential and this figure is the going rate for that type of player.