It was always going to be expensive for the Cowboys to pay Dak Prescott (and others), and it was probably always going to be somewhat complicated. The Cowboys have waited until almost the very last second to pay players like Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Lawrence. They got ahead of the curve on Ezekiel Elliott (technically speaking, of course), Jaylon Smith, and La’el Collins so it’s not like they’re a front office that doesn’t know what they’re doing. Big contracts cost big money.
Quarterbacks obviously live in a different stratosphere than most when it comes to long-term extensions in the NFL and Dak Prescott is no exception. The NFL Combine is officially behind us which means time is running out to get an extension done before the franchise tag window closes. Apparently, that’s going to take a lot more than people are comfortable with.
The Cowboys have reportedly offered $33M per season to Dak Prescott
When it comes to quarterbacks the general rule of thumb is that if the one in question is a franchise-caliber signal-caller then they are likely going to be paid a little bit more than the last one to negotiate a long-term deal. There are four quarterbacks who currently make at least $33M per season: Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers.
According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler, the Dallas Cowboys have offered to put Dak Prescott in that territory. They reported on Monday morning that the Cowboys have in fact made an offer of about $33M per season.
The Cowboys absolutely plan to use the franchise tag on Prescott if they can’t get the quarterback signed before the March 12 deadline, but their preference is to get him signed to a long-term deal. If they tag him, they have until July 15 to sign him or else they have to wait until after the season.
There are several factors at work here, well beyond the simplistic “Why haven’t they signed him yet?” debate. Dallas has made Prescott a significant offer that averages, sources say, about $33 million per year. But there’s a lot we don’t know about that offer, including how long the proposed deal is, how much is really guaranteed, how much pays out in the first three years, etc. Prescott is obviously looking for more than Dallas has offered, and has been just as content to wait this out as the team has.
It’s important to note, as Graziano and Fowler did later on in their report, that if the Cowboys were to place the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott (the likely outcome) that it would be for about $33M. If you’re Dak Prescott, there is no incentive to sign a long-term deal for that same annual amount when you know that you are effectively guaranteed that if push comes to shove and you get tagged.
You can argue that $33M per season is or isn’t low-balling Dak Prescott, the facts are that if the value were truly that number exactly then, without knowing the guarantees and how they influence all of this, it wouldn’t even put Dak past Jared Goff who he has outplayed.
Where Goff is differentiated from a contractual perspective is in that his deal featured $110M in total guaranteed money. It’s likely that Prescott’s representation is petitioning for something similar.
Dak Prescott may prefer a short-term deal
The Cowboys love to lock in their players to extensions for a significant period of time. Consider that the big extensions they’ve done with their core players have all been for at least five years:
- Tyron Smith: eight years
- Travis Frederick: six years
- Dez Bryant: five years
- Zack Martin: six years
- Jaylon Smith: five years
- La’el Collins: five years
- Ezekiel Elliott: six years
Dallas likes to get these deals done for long periods so that they have flexibility to re-structure and buy cap space further down the road. It would be strange to see an extension done with a core player, let alone a quarterback, that wasn’t for at least five years. It’s possible, though, that in an effort to meet somewhere in the middle of it all that the Cowboys and Dak Prescott do something shorter. Also from Graziano and Fowler’s report:
One source suggested that Prescott might prefer to do a shorter-term deal than the traditional long Cowboys deal that allows them to keep restructuring for cap relief. If Prescott signed a Kirk Cousins-style three-year deal, for example, he’d hit free agency again at age 29. Prescott might also be waiting to see whether the Texans extend Deshaun Watson this offseason, and then he could work off of that deal if it establishes new quarterback standards.
Kirk Cousins signed a three-year extension with the Minnesota Vikings two years ago and where that deal stood out was in that it was fully guaranteed. Cousins pioneered the way for quarterbacks that didn’t want to bend the knee to their team as he continually risked playing on the franchise tag while with the Washington Redskins. It netted him a historic fully-guaranteed deal.
Guarantees aside, not that they aren’t significant, it would certainly behoove Dak Prescott to hit free agency sooner rather than later which would be the impetus for a shorter deal. The sooner that Prescott can hit free agency again the sooner that he can cash in once more, it’s not uncommon these days to see quarterbacks get two big deals over the course of their careers.
Many have suggested that the Cowboys simply “copy and paste” the deals that the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles did with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. The issue with that is that their extensions were done on top of their rookie contracts. As Goff and Wentz were both first-round picks taken in 2016 the life of their rookie deal actually rides out through the 2020 season. Their “extensions” don’t truly begin until 2021. Considering Dak’s contract expired a year before theirs giving him an identical extension would in fact place him in free agency a year earlier again. Yahoo’s Charles Robinson detailed this issue back in December.
Prescott’s contract situation is often framed inside the negotiation of those two quarterbacks, but the devil in the details is both of those extensions were “tack-on” deals, giving their respective franchises six total years of control (including the 2019 season). Dallas would like to get similar long-term control with Prescott, which has created an argument over the number of years in the deal. It has created this problematic sliding scale: The more years Dallas wants, the more it will have to pay in terms of overall money, guarantees and average salary per year. Conversely, Prescott’s camp would like a shorter deal — similar to the four-year extensions of Wentz and Goff — that would allow Prescott to continue rotating into free agency and keeping his salary commensurate with where the NFL is heading with elite-level quarterback pay.
Goff and Wentz both received four-year extensions which puts them under team control through the 2024 season. The Cowboys would have to give Dak Prescott a five-year deal here in 2020 in order to match that level of control, but if you’re Dak why would you do that and prevent yourself from another payday? The only way the Cowboys can make up him surrendering another year is in the guarantees which is likely where the hold up (one of a potential many) is at the moment.