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Binary states, market forces, and why Dak Prescott is going to get PAID

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The arguments rage about whether he is worth the huge contract he is about to land. And they all miss the point.

Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys
Give me the money. Give it here.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

In case you missed it, the Seattle Seahawks just made Russell Wilson a wealthier man with a huge contract, including an average yearly value in new money of $35 million and a staggering $107 million in guarantees. And yes, Virginia, it does impact Dak Prescott and his coming extension with the Dallas Cowboys. Prescott is almost certain to get something at least in the ballpark, and with a longer deal possible, he may wind up with more total value over the length of the deal than Wilson got. Predictably, that has led to a raging debate about whether he is worth it. Stats and records comparing him to other QBs abound. Assertions are made that a big deal for him cripples the team. It is all entertaining or maddening, depending on your level of investment in the Cowboys. And it all misses the only salient points.

This is not about won-loss totals or how far the team has gotten in the playoffs. It is about two things: Is he or is he not a franchise quarterback? If he is, what it the price for one of those in the 2019 offseason?

The first thing is based on a simple supposition. If you have a true franchise QB in the NFL, you have a legitimate chance at getting to, and advancing, in the playoffs. If you don’t, all is not hopeless. It is just incredibly hard.

Opinions, whether from big media types or humble fans, don’t matter. All that matters for Dallas, or any team, is what the leadership of the organization thinks, which primarily means the ownership, general manager, and head coach. For the Cowboys, the first two are combined in Jerry and Stephen Jones, but the principle is the same. Once that small group of decision makers comes to a consensus, it turns into a matter of economics.

Before we delve into that, however, let’s look at the state of the position around the league, because it tells us something that is crucial to the economics driving that price tag. The draft is coming up, and some teams are clearly looking to find a new starter, while rumors swirl about possible trades involving others. But here is the current projected starter for each team. Age is noted because that can have a real impact on just how much and how long you want to pay a QB.

Projected starting QBs

Team QB Age (current) Team QB Age (current)
Team QB Age (current) Team QB Age (current)
Arizona Cardinals Josh Rosen 22 Los Angeles Chargers Philip Rivers 37
Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan 33 Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff 24
Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson 22 Miami Dolphins Ryan Fitzpatrick 36
Buffalo Bills Josh Allen 22 Minnesota Vikings Kirk Cousins 30
Carolina Panthers Cam Newton 29 New England Patriots Tom Brady 41
Chicago Bears Mitch Trubisky 24 New Orleans Saints Drew Brees 40
Cincinnati Bengals Andy Dalton 31 New York Giants Eli Manning 38
Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield 24 New York Jets Sam Darnold 21
Dallas Cowboys Dak Prescott 25 Oakland Raiders Derek Carr 28
Denver Broncos Joe Flacco 34 Philadelphia Eagles Carson Wentz 26
Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford 31 Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger 37
Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers 35 San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo 27
Houston Texans Deshaun Watson 23 Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson 27
Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck 29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston 25
Jacksonville Jaguars Nick Foles 30 Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota 25
Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes 23 Washington Colt McCoy 32

Take a look at that. How many of those names are clearly better than Prescott? Of those, how many are in their late 30s? Or even 40s? How many would you take right now over Prescott? It isn’t many if you are being truly objective. You either are a franchise-caliber QB or you aren’t, and he is just about any way you look at it. It is a purely binary decision.

This makes it pretty clear why the Cowboys think Prescott is the future. He is young, still has great room for growth, has shown he can lead the team into the postseason, and is greatly respected in the locker room. The team clearly thinks he is the legitimate franchise quarterback of the Cowboys, and that they need to lock him up.

That means they have to pay the price. And the economics of signing or extending a franchise QB are different.

Let me give you an analogy. Think of getting or signing an NFL player as if it were shopping for a car. Some, like depth players, are basically on the used car lot of the dealership. That includes second- and third-tier free agents you bring in. Those, you can bargain hard to get the best price you can, and if it doesn’t work out, you look for another.

Your top players at most positions are in the new car section. That is what you saw with DeMarcus Lawrence. There still is some negotiation on price, but you are still going to have to pay a markedly higher cost. In return, you get a really nice player with a lot of miles still ahead of him. Teams still have to be smart, and some clearly overpay, but the principle holds. And lemons do happen.

But quarterbacks are different. The true franchise quarterback is not out on the lot. It is in the showroom, maybe behind some ropes, because it is the fire-breathing, high-performance dream ride. It may not even be available that day, because the demand is higher than the supply. Look over that chart again. Being very generous, there are at most 20 names there you can say are truly capable of consistently leading a run to the playoffs - and if you start looking more critically, the number falls. Clearly, some teams are hungry for something better. And that means there is a premium price. You don’t just pay list, because someone else is willing to pay more, like trading away multiple first-round picks, just to get on the waiting list. Look at what our beloved division rivals, the Eagles, did to draft Carson Wentz.

The Cowboys got one of the great steals when a fourth-round compensatory pick turned into a legitimate starter who has yet to lead his team in a losing season in his brief career. But that rookie deal is winding down, and now they have to treat this like a new purchase. And he is clearly in that exclusive supercar category for the team’s front office, whether outsiders agree with that assessment or not.

That means the team needs to ask Uncle Scrooge, also known as Jerry Jones, to unlock the money bin, because it is going to take a truckload of coin. Or more.

The Wilson deal does not set a new floor for Prescott, but it does raise the ceiling. One thing the Cowboys can do in negotiations is to use a longer contract to give him a higher total value over its length, while not paying quite as much per year. But that means at least five or six years, and that could push it to the $180 to $200 million total range. However it is structured, it could easily be for a yearly value of over $30 million.

That is going to shock and dismay some, but it is a drum I have been beating for a while. This isn’t about stats or win-loss records. It is about the fact that Prescott is viewed as a franchise quarterback by the team. You have to pay those. And the Cowboys will.