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Dak Prescott doesn’t want to play tag with the Cowboys

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Negotiation through the media has begun.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
Defenders aren’t the only thing he may stiff arm.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Currently, the top priority for the Dallas Cowboys is to get quarterback Dak Prescott signed to a new contract. So far, there is no indication of significant progress on that front. The team has the franchise and transition tag to use if a long-term deal is not reached by the March 10 deadline for using those. But, as David Moore of DMN reported from Miami, while Prescott hasn’t come out and said he won’t sign a tag, he also has left that particular door open.

But by expressing his disappointment over the lack of a contract, by refusing to state he’ll report to the Cowboys offseason program if he’s hit with the franchise tag, he creates doubt.

He creates leverage.

“You would hope and you would think something is going to get done, right?’’ Prescott said Thursday in his most pointed comments yet. “I mean, you would have thought something would have gotten done before the season.

“In my brain, it only says that it gets done. Without the tag. …’’

Prescott paused for a second, searching for the right words.

“I don’t think any of that is necessary,’’ he said. “But that’s business. That’s all calculated.

“That’s all on them.’’

It isn’t exactly a threat. More of a warning. Prescott is going to do what he needs to do after being the biggest bargain in the league for his first four years.

NFL players have very limited ways to influence contract negotiations. The deck is stacked against them. The salary cap is a very one-sided tool to limit player pay. It came about after Jerry Jones was perceived to have used free agency to buy his way to his Super Bowls, particularly the third one. It was such a widely held opinion, there was even a commercial about it.

The problem for the rest of the league was that other owners were not willing to match the free-spending ways. And Jones himself pushed for the cap when he realized how many of his own roster would be looking for big paydays in the future.

Player salaries are a debit on the profit and loss statements, and money not paid to them is money kept by the owners. It is an unfortunate bit of zero sum thinking, since the spectacular growth of NFL revenues have been fueled by the star players at the top of the food chain.

The effect for those stars, like Prescott, is that teams have to find ways to stay under the cap. Creative accounting and contract structures allow more flexibility than many think, but there are still limits. The tags are another tool favoring the teams, designed to basically let them take their best free agent off the market, even if competitors would be willing to outbid the original team.

That means about all a player can do is to holdout or refuse to sign a tag. Although they are different situations, since a holdout is when a player is still under contract, the effect is the same. The player is not there for meetings and practices. If the player is willing to, he can sit out games, or even an entire season the way Le’Veon Bell did.

Of course, Bell was not dealing with the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott was last offseason. We remember how that turned out, with a record-shattering contract for a running back completed just in time for the start of the season.

Not signing the tag may be about all Prescott can do, but he knows that it is likely a very effective tactic. Given the way it took Elliott a few games to get up to speed, it is also likely that the Jones family, given the greater role Jerry’s son Stephen now has, will be motivated to avoid letting things drag out.

The possibility of Prescott (or Amari Cooper) eschewing a tag to try and get a better deal should not be a surprise to anyone. It was brought up here earlier this week.

Due to the CBA expiring after this season, the Cowboys have both a franchise and a transition tag available. They are expected to employ both if something cannot be worked out by the March 10th deadline to use the tags, at least for Prescott and Cooper.

That doesn’t mean that they will then have the players locked up, however. The players have to sign the tag for them to go into effect.

OK, I brought it up. I did term refusing a tag a holdout, which was semantically inaccurate, but it still has the same effect and goal. It was still one of those things where you hate to be right.

Now it is up to the team to make Prescott an offer he can accept. To fail would be to hamstring Mike McCarthy and his staff, and it could lead to another disappointing season. Prescott and his agent are well aware of this. They also have to realize that Jerry Jones is now in a permanent “win now” situation.

It may be the only leverage Prescott has. But it is pretty significant.