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Cowboys may have more leverage in the Dak Prescott negotiations than they are letting on

Can Jerry Jones get a deal done this time?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If you’re Jerry Jones, one thing you’ve got going for you, apart from the yacht, is tons of unsolicited advice you’re going to get on almost every topic imaginable, from the color of your team’s gameday pants all the way through what, if anything, you should pay your quarterback.

Last week, ESPN’s Todd Archer proposed a face-saving contract compromise for Dak Prescott and Cowboys. Archer’s proposal gave both sides a bit of what they want: cap flexibility for the Cowboys, and an out for Prescott after four years.

This week, Joel Corry of CBS Sports proposed a three-year deal with tons of money for Prescott in what looked like a much more lopsided deal. Predictably, this had Cowboys fans up in arms, accusing Corry of all sorts of malfeasance and threatening the Cowboys and Jerry Jones with all sorts drama if such a deal were signed.

But Corry’s proposal was simply meant to illustrate what a deal would look like “with the Cowboys conceding every major aspect of the deal.”

Those major aspects, according to Corry, would be

  • Length of contract: Three years
  • Average per year: $41.5 million, or $124.5 million over three years
  • Contract guarantees: $100 million guaranteed at signing, rest guaranteed at the start of the second year, effectively guaranteeing everything
  • Signing bonus: $60 million
  • Contract structure: Three years with two voidable years added for cap purposes

After reading those highlights, you’re probably laughing hysterically or you’re steaming mad, but even if those numbers look crazy, there are a couple of things to consider.

Last year, per Todd Archer, the Cowboys offered Prescott a deal averaging $34.5 million a year, with a $50 million signing bonus and $110 million in guarantees (both not far off Corry’s numbers), but stupidly insisted on a five-year deal, when Prescott insisted on four years.

The Cowboys then tagged Prescott to the tune of $31.4 million in 2020. If they can’t reach a long-term deal this year, they’ll tag him again, this time for $37.7 million. A third, though highly unlikely, tag in 2022 would come in at $54.3 million. Add up those three years, and you’re at $123.4 million for three years. Effectively, that is the “contract” Prescott is already playing under.

Think about that. Corry’s proposal at $124.5 million simply reflects what Prescott is already on track to get with three consecutive tags. On top of that, Prescott will likely hit free agency after this season, because the Cowboys simply cannot afford a third tag. That would open up a free agent bidding war that will make Kirk Cousin’s three-year, fully guaranteed deal in 2018 with the Vikings for $84 million look like chump change.

No wonder Jerry Jones said, “I don’t know how you could have any more leverage,” than Dak Prescott has in these negotiations. But was Jones serious, or is this just his way of playing rope-a-dope with Todd France, Prescott’s agent? Because there is one thing that Prescott does not currently have, and which may give the Cowboys a little leverage of their own: guarantees.

Regardless of how much money we are talking about for Prescott’s next contract, none of it is in Prescott’s bank account yet. The injury risk, as Prescott’s camp knows all too well, is very real in the NFL. And even if Prescott were to hit unrestricted free agency in 2022, that free agency motherlode of generational wealth will only materialize if he is fully healthy and has played a great 2021 season in Dallas.

Prescott’s camp will make some concessions on contract length and structure in return for the Cowboys making concessions on the guaranteed portion of the contract. Whether those concessions will be enough for both sides to agree to a deal remains to be seen.

The Cowboys have re-iterated over and over that they want Prescott in Dallas, and Jerry Jones has never shied away from doling out humongous contracts (in fact, he relishes doing so), but if a contract extension, or at least a gentlemen’s agreement, or even something like a wink-wink-nudge-nudge understanding with Prescott and his agent can’t be reached by March 9th, the Cowboys have one more option left, the non-exclusive franchise tag.

If the Cowboys can’t reach a long-term agreement with Prescott, and won’t tag him for a third time, he’ll leave Dallas after the 2021 season as a free agent with no compensation for the Cowboys (except possibly a paltry third-round compensatory pick).

A non-exclusive tag would allow Prescott to negotiate with other NFL teams, and if he signs an offer sheet with another club, the Cowboys would have five days to match the offer. If they decline to match the offer, they’d receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team, and at least get something in return for a player that was on his way out of Dallas anyway.

At the Combine last year, Jerry Jones said, “I am not, in any way, going to not have his rights, for one minute,” seemingly ruling out a non-exclusive tag for Prescott. But at some point, it may be necessary to play hardball.

Hey, and with Russell Wilson publicly knocking on the door in Dallas, it may be time to up the pressure a little anyway, no?