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The draft falls between two franchise tag deadlines, complicating the Dak Prescott situation

The Cowboys are going to have to do some trusting of their instincts when the draft rolls around.

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott remains focused, won’t be distracted by contract Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

February 23rd. That is the date that NFL teams can start applying the franchise tag to players. March 9th. That’s the deadline for teams to franchise tag a player. July 15th. That’s the expected deadline for a player to sign his franchise tag, or at least sometime thereabouts.

Right in between all those dates is April 29th. That is night one of the 2021 NFL Draft where the Dallas Cowboys have the #10 pick overall. What’s the significance? There is a strong possibility the Cowboys enter the draft with the contract situation of Dak Prescott still an unknown.

If a miracle occurs and the Cowboys get a deal done with Prescott before the franchise tag application deadline, then all of this will be moot. The Cowboys and Prescott can then begin planning their next four years or so together and we can all move on to other news. But if it doesn’t happen and the Cowboys have to apply the franchise tag to Prescott, then negotiations could drag on toward that mid-summer deadline.

That would leave the Cowboys vulnerable heading into the draft. We’ve discussed before how the Cowboys need to at least be thinking about the future at QB if they can’t get Prescott signed by the draft. They have the #10 pick in a draft that is quarterback-rich. Who knows what pick they will have in 2022 and how the quarterback class will shake out in that year.

Depending on where they are with Prescott, draft night could be a risky affair for the organization. Take this very specific scenario offered up in a mailbag question to some writers at the mothership.

Worst-case scenario: Cowboys are on the clock, Dak hasn’t signed his franchise tag, the two top corners are gone but Trey Lance and Mac Jones are still there. What would you do? — VINCE RICHARDSON / MOBILE, AL

Rob: There’s an important part of your scenario that’s unanswered, Vince. Is there hope for a Dak deal? Because as long as there’s optimism, I’m not panicking and drafting a quarterback in the first round who very well may not play a snap on his entire rookie contract. As long as there’s hope, I’m drafting the best defensive prospect on the board and trying to improve the team under the assumption that Dak is the guy I’m building around. I get that we all want to see a resolution here, but if this year’s offseason schedule is similar to past years (it hasn’t been fully announced yet), then mid-July is still the only real deadline regarding the tag if Dak has to get it again to extend the negotiating window.

David: I respectfully disagree with my dear buddy Rob. We all want the front office to get a deal done with Dak. That’s the best possible outcome. But if it’s not done by mid-April, you’ve got to start planning for the future. Hope isn’t a strategy. In the scenario you’re presenting me, I’m drafting Trey Lance. He’s incredibly athletic and he’s got a cannon arm. He can sit and learn behind Dak for a year, and we’ll see what happens in 2022. You simply can’t pass up the opportunity to draft the future of your team — not if you can’t come to an agreement with Dak.

That’s two very different takes on what could be a pivotal moment in deciding he Cowboys future. Rob Phillips makes a good point that it might all depend on just how the front office is feeling about getting a long-term deal done with Prescott. If they reach the end of April and they feel that Prescott will play 2021 on the franchise tag, then they have to think about drafting a quarterback. While it’s not 100%, the general feeling is that Prescott will not be the Cowboys quarterback in 2022 if he plays on a second franchise tag in 2021.

And that final decision could come as late as mid-July. By then, the draft will be long in the rear-view mirror and the Cowboys might have missed their best chance to plan for a post-Prescott future.

This is all speculation, of course, and the real hope is that the Cowboys and Prescott come to an agreement either before the tag is applied, or shortly thereafter. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that these negotiations are never a certain thing.

What’s your call BTB? What would you do if the nightmare scenario above arrived on draft night?