Now that the NFL draft is over, everyone can return to wondering about the state of contract negotiations between the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott. The Cowboys tagged Prescott and he is set to receive $31.5 million this year unless the two sides can come to terms on a long-term deal. They have until July 15th to make that happen or Prescott will have to play under the franchise tag.
The volume on the negotiations was turned up a bit when Stephen Jones discussed the matter with Mike Florio last week. Florio asked if the deadline will make a deal happen.
Stephen Jones: I think so. I mean at the end of the day I know everybody’s out there “how have you not paid Dak?” At the same time, Dak has to, we’ve tried to pay him, and he has to accept what we want to pay him. But the deal’s got to be right for Dak. It’s got to be right for us. As you know Mike the salary cap makes this a zero sum game for owners. This is not something where Jerry and myself are trying to save money so the Cowboys can make more money for the Jones family. We’re just trying to do our very best working with Mike, working with Will McClay, to really divide up the pie in the best way possible to win a Super Bowl. There’s all sorts of analytics out there that show if your quarterback takes up too big a percentage of your salary cap, that it decreases your chances to win. We’re just trying to figure out the right fit. No one wants to sign Dak to a longer-term deal more than Jerry and myself, we’re on the record time and time again of what we think of him as a leader. He has the it factor. He’s a fierce competitor. He wants to win as well. It’s just got to be right for him and right for us. We’ll continue to work to a conclusion on that.
Those comments re-ignited the discussion around Prescott’s contract negotiations. Former Cowboys player Marcus Spears, now an analyst on TV, didn’t understand why Prescott hasn’t accepted the deal if the parameters are the rumored $35 million a year with over $100 million guaranteed.
“I’ve never known a guy to fight over a year if he’s going to get $100 million guaranteed,” the former Cowboys’ defensive end said on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday morning. “Because, usually, that’s all that matters to NFL players is, ‘What am I getting going to my bank account?’
The “fight over a year” comment is the crux of what most observers think this battle is about. It has been reported that the Cowboys want a five-year deal while Prescott wants a four-year deal. Spears is saying if that’s the case, he doesn't really understand Prescott’s position. But, he also thinks there might be something else in the deal that is giving Prescott pause because he believes these negotiations are not normal.
“Out of every contract we’ve watched get done … there was not this delay. There was not this many players being signed to the team before the quarterback being signed. There was not a nine-year starter signed as a backup. All of this stuff! And we keep watching it like they’ll go about normal business and they’ll get the deal done. This ain’t normal!”
“If they’ve offered Dak $35 million a year and over $100 million guaranteed and he’s turning it down because of an extra year, Dak is crazy,” he said. “I’m not sure if that is the case. I’m thinking something about the structure of this contract is giving Dak and his agent pause before signing.”
Similarly, Stephen A. Smith sides with what Spears is saying, but also wants the details on the supposed contract offer because he appears to be in the camp that something isn’t adding up.
“If Dak Prescott is getting paid over $35 million a year and over $100 million in guaranteed, you gotta take that deal, particularly in these moments in time,” Smith said. “This has me on high alert. It’s really raised my proverbial eyebrow. I don’t understand with the exceptional, exceptional NFL analysts we have all over the place or NFL insiders why someone has not been able to tell us the amount of guaranteed dollars that Dak Prescott has been offered. Because I gotta believe that’s what this is about. Nothing else makes any sense for this go be going on for a year now the way that it has.”
Bill Barnwell notes that all the leverage is on Prescott’s side, and if he doesn’t get the deal he likes now, waiting a year may put him in even better position to cash in.
The Cowboys can franchise him again in 2021 for $37.8 million, but with a third franchise tag costing them $54.3 million, they realistically have to get Prescott signed before the end of the 2021 season. And if the Cowboys think Prescott’s demands are unreasonable now, they’re not going to get cheaper, given that the likes of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are going to raise the market by signing extensions of their own.
What I will say, though, is that Prescott is in the catbird seat. The Cowboys let go of Jason Garrett, but they retained offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and star wide receiver Amari Cooper before adding another valuable weapon in rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb. Prescott lost veteran center Travis Frederick to retirement, but he’s well-positioned to deliver a big season for an offense that finished second in DVOA a year ago. If Prescott does that, well, the Cowboys might need to accept what Dak wants to be paid.
This may all get worked out and all the drama will fade away, as the Jones’ say, deadlines make deals. This all could just be a case of both sides digging in until a compromise is reached somewhere around July 15th. But if there is more, and there is something in this contract that Cowboys are insistent upon, and that Prescott’s camp won’t accept, whether that is length of the contract, guaranteed money, or some structural issue that is putting off Prescott’s camp - then all bets are off.
The Cowboys have roughly two months to solve this equation.