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Cowboys fumble opportunity to secure Dak Prescott long-term, franchise tag deadline passes with no deal

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The Cowboys and Dak Prescott could not reach a long-term deal.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After months and months of speculation and debate, the July 15th franchise tag deadline came and went without the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott agreeing to a long-term extension.

The two sides could not come to terms on the length of the contract, and the Cowboys reportedly offered Prescott a lower percentage of guaranteed money than what Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill signed for this offseason.

Following an impressive four-season start to his career, with most recently throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and accounting for over 30 touchdowns, there is a lot of confusion on why the Cowboys did not pay their signal-caller.

This is especially head-scratching when considering that two of the other starting quarterbacks from Prescott’s 2016 draft class are locked-in long-term and were rewarded for their on-field performance. Both Carson Wentz and Jared Goff each signed four-year contracts last summer, and there is a very strong argument that Prescott is the best of the three.

Since he fell all the way to pick 135 in his draft class, Prescott has exceeded all expectations and has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in football. Prescott did hit a rough spot from the second half of his second season through the first half of his third, but he has largely proven to be very, very good.

Prescott put together one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history; he has led the Cowboys to a pair of NFC East titles and beat Russell Wilson in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs; he went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers during his first ever postseason game, and he has totaled the second most wins by any quarterback since the 2016 season.

Prescott then took his game to new heights in 2019, thanks partially to the coaching from Jon Kitna and having Kellen Moore leading the offense. Prescott’s footwork, accuracy, and confidence throwing the football all improved, and he nearly broke the 5,000-yard mark in the process.

Furthermore, Prescott is among the best in every category in the analytical world, as well. Prescott finished the 2019 season fourth in the league in QBR, ranked as the best deep ball thrower across the league, and landed in the top-5 of several other categories. Bobby Belt did an excellent job debunking all of the most common negative narratives surrounding Prescott’s game, and it is certainly worth the read.

This past season Dak ranked third in the NFL in EPA, behind only MVP Lamar Jackson and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes. Dak finished in the top four for QBR for the third time in his four seasons. He’s the only quarterback in the league to finish top four in QBR three times since 2016.

Dak finished sixth in the NFL in adjusted net yards per pass attempt, and he currently ranks fifth in NFL history behind Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers.

If PFF rankings are your thing, Dak finished ranked as the 9th best quarterback in the NFL in 2019.

Recently NFL.com released their ranking of the best deep ball passers in the NFL based on Next Gen Stats and Prescott came in ranked #1. They noted, “No one was better at exceeding passing expectations on deep balls in 2019 than Prescott.”

Whether you’re using standard or advanced metrics, Dak checks all the boxes of an elite passer.

Prescott bet on himself last season, and he showed the Cowboys that he is only getting better and better. Instead of the Cowboys rewarding their franchise signal-caller with a brand new deal after earning just $4 million since last summer (for comparison's sake, Goff has earned $81 million and Wentz has earned $79 million in that same time frame after inking extensions), Dallas is forcing Prescott to prove himself once again.

Earlier this week, we noted that the last two quarterbacks to play a season under the franchise tag eventually left for a different franchise. Drew Brees landed with the Saints, while Kirk Cousins played two seasons on the tag before inking a big deal with the Vikings. Playing for America’s Team is certainly a different situation than the ones with the Chargers or in Washington, though.

Although it may not be a huge sample size in terms of quantity, it is certainly worth taking into account. Most teams extend their quarterback before the franchise tag is a viable option, but the Cowboys have decided to not go that route and are risking losing the face of their franchise in the long-run because of that.

The franchise tag will pay Prescott $31.4 million this season, and if the team opts to place the tag on him again next offseason (which would be very likely), Prescott will earn more than $37 million in 2021 — giving him a total of $69.1 million over the next two years. If the Cowboys choose to place the tag on Prescott for a third time (not as likely but still a possibility), that number rises to $123.3 million over three years before hitting free agency in 2023.

Prescott was recently ranked as a top-10 quarterback in ESPN’s poll that included feedback from important personnel around the league, including a vote for the Cowboys quarterback as the fourth best at his position in the NFL. While the poll certainly had some question marks, it is still worth noting. Additionally, CBS Sports recently ranked Prescott as the fifth best quarterback in the league.

You pay those kind of quarterbacks, especially if they just played through their four-year fourth-round rookie contract in which they played for chump change relative to their peers. Prescott has done nothing but perform as one of the best young quarterbacks in football since taking over the reigns. Conservatively, Prescott is one of the seven-to-10 best quarterbacks in football and has a significant argument to be ranked higher heading into his fifth season.

The Cowboys have opted to wait at least another year to pay their franchise quarterback, meaning the odds are now against Prescott remaining in the DFW for too much longer. Prescott gets yet another opportunity to bet on himself and showcase his talent, this time with likely an even bigger chip on his shoulder. That is a risky proposition for the Jones family — and the price is only going to be even more expensive.