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The Flacco Factor, the Cowboys, and Dak Prescott

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The big trade by the Broncos to acquire the soon-to-be-former Raven has real implications for Dallas. I’ll explain.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway, GM of the Denver Broncos, made the biggest headlines of the week in the NFL (so far, at least) in arranging a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for former starting QB and Super Bowl champ Joe Flacco. While one connection to the Dallas Cowboys has already been pointed out, the impact of this trade goes far beyond the day Elway saved the Cowboys from the likely big mistake of drafting Paxton Lynch.

That was, of course, the draft where Dallas drafted Dak Prescott after “missing out” on Lynch (and latter Connor Cook) before “settling” for the man who has been the starting quarterback every game of his short career. It turned into one of the greatest draft steals ever, especially when you consider the return on investment. Prescott has been the least expensive starting QB in the league since joining the Cowboys, both in real dollars and cap space. He has been instrumental in two NFC East titles and won a playoff game. That, as they say, is significant. Now, the team is going all in on him with the promotion of Kellen Moore as the new offensive coordinator and the addition of quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna.

Soon, they have to work out a new contract for Prescott - and it is going to be big. There are lots of other reasons (as has also been covered), but the arranged trade for Flacco (which can not actually happen until the star of the new NFL year on March 13 at 4 pm ET) is one more bit of evidence.

The willingness of Elway to acquire him is proof that there are simply not enough true NFL starting quarterbacks to go around. And that means that to have one, you have to be willing to pay him very well after his rookie deal expires.

Choosing Flacco as the answer to his own teams quarterback woes (at least in the short-term) has been seen as just the latest in a series of bad choices at the position by Elway, but that does not invalidate the need involved. If you don’t have a quarterback, your team is going nowhere. The only exception is if the rest of the roster is so good it can carry the QB. That is seen by many as how Flacco got his ring (and the same argument has been made for Eli Manning, although he also can be said to have gotten hot at exactly the right time twice). But that is a rare combination. It is much more common for a team to get to the promised land with a truly skilled and effective QB. Tom Brady is exhibit A in that argument. Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and Nick Foles also can be viewed in that light. It takes a team and some good coaching as well, but the modern NFL game rides on the shoulders and arm of the quarterback.

The reality is that there are only, at most, about fifteen such individuals playing the game at any one point. While Prescott has not yet proven he is able to lead his team to the championship, his body of work has real promise. If he can correct his flaws, he has a real shot at becoming among the elite. Given that he only has three year’s experience, there is reason to believe his best is yet to come.

While his deal is subject to reworking, Flacco’s current contract has three years remaining, with an annual payout of $25.33 million. That includes the money already paid to him, but even without that cap accounting consideration, he is still due over $21 million annually from the Broncos - and they may well sweeten the deal. There have been a lot of attempts to determine just what Prescott’s floor is for his next deal, now that the team is able to work on it in the final year of his rookie contract. And $25 million has been suggested as the least he can expect. Now, with Flacco’s move to Denver, you can be sure the numbers for him will be brought up by Prescott’s agent in negotiations.

Frankly, Prescott’s body of work to date suggest strongly that he is worth more. Because Flacco is not good.

Why in the world would a team trade for someone with this resumé? Well, Elway is notoriously inept at QB evaluations. But this also speaks to the desperation that comes when you don’t have a QB you believe in. Teams find themselves taking huge risks and grasping at straws.

The Cowboys are not in that position, not by a long shot. Forget the idea of finding a better quarterback than Prescott in the draft, as many have suggested the team should do. Lynch was seen as the third best in his class, and that obviously was not true. Prescott was an incredible find for Dallas. They have to pay the price required to keep him.

The alternative is to start over, be back where they were in the long dark seasons between Troy Aikman and Tony Romo. To be looking for a new talent, with the very real possibility of failure, perhaps more than one. Each year, only a handful of capable QBs come out of the college ranks, and sometimes, there are none. Veterans are expensive if they have proven themselves, and you always have to ask yourself, why is one on the market in the first place?

While some question Prescott, the staff of the Cowboys know what he is. His extension will no doubt involve some hard negotiating, but it will happen. It may not be until after this season, but it might be wise to get it done sooner than later. The CBA is expiring after the 2020 season, and you can be sure that NFLPA is going to do their best to increase the salary cap to get a bigger piece of the growing NFL pie. They would probably like to do away with it entirely, but the owners know they are not disciplined enough to not get into bidding wars over talent, and also fear the risk of a handful of teams with big income, like Dallas, monopolizing the free agent market if they can spend as much as they want. That argues against using the franchise tag on Dak to get through 2020, since the price tag would almost certainly be greater afterwards.

Flacco is the result of the demand for starting quarterbacks outstripping the supply. With Nick Foles also about to come on the market, or be traded by the Philadelphia Eagles, the price tag for one is likely to have more upward pressure on it.

Give up any ideas of anything less than a nine-figure overall number for Dak’s eventual contract. He is going to get his money. And if he can continue to progress, he is going to be worth it.