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The Cowboys, Dak Prescott, and the winter of quarterback discontent

It is an unprecedented year for quarterback drama in the league.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles
Things are strange in a lot of NFL cities.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It is not at all unusual to have an NFL team and their star player in hard negotiations over a new contract. There have certainly been times when a player has wanted to escape their current team. Trades are just another tool that are used to adjust rosters. Even the idea of using one to unload a player and the onerous cap burden he carries is not unprecedented.

But to have all these things happening at once with multiple franchise quarterbacks? This is a bizarre and unique time in the league.

Look at all the things that have happened or are ongoing:

  • The Dak Prescott contract situation is our particular focus as fans of the Dallas Cowboys. It has been festering for three years now. While it may still be the biggest contract story going on, there are certainly challengers.
  • Things started off early this month when the Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford. It’s not just an attempt to fix their own woes at the position. In addition to a couple of future first-round picks and a current third, they also shipped out Jared Goff and what has become a millstone of a contract. Now the Detroit Lions get to try and salvage the career of the former number one overall pick. Or they could just draft one with the seventh overall pick and make Goff a very highly compensated backup.
  • In the 2016 draft, Carson Wentz was close behind Goff, going at number two. He was also right on Goff’s heels in getting traded by his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles. In this case he went for the princely price of (checks notes) a third-round pick this year and a conditional second in 2022. Frank Reich seems to think he will be able to resurrect Wentz’s career with the Indianapolis Colts, who have a history of (checks notes) hanging quarterback talent out to dry season after season.
  • Deshaun Watson has made his desire to free himself from the massively dysfunctional Houston Texans clear, to the point he is reportedly prepared to sit out the 2021 season if necessary.
  • Now Russell Wilson is also airing some dirty laundry about how unhappy he is with the Seattle Seahawks, in particular the intransigence of Pete Carroll in refusing to accept input from his star QB. With all the predictability of the phases of the moon, the Cowboys were brought up as one of the few places he would accept a trade to.

It’s interesting, or something, how these all tie into Dallas and Dak. All of the quarterbacks have gotten their big paydays except for Prescott, and are frequently used to try and predict what it would take to get a long-term deal done. Goff and Wentz are, of course, forever linked with him as members of the 2016 draft class. Of course, Prescott was drafted long after the other two, and the frequently debated question of who was the best of the trio seems to have been decisively answered in his favor.

There is one other element that links all these, and it is perhaps most worth examining. We have six examples (seven if you reach back to how the Colts failed Andrew Luck) of teams that have totally failed at handling their quarterback situations.

Goff and Wentz represent a double whammy, as both their teams were too fast to hand out big contracts while hindsight shows that Prescott should have been the first overall pick that year. Stafford has never had as good of a roster around him as his talent deserved. The issues in Houston are manifold and it may be impossible for the new staff there to repair the rift with Watson. And the simplest way to explain the problem in Seattle is that Carroll is just too impressed with his own genius to adapt and properly utilize the considerable talents that Wilson brings to the table.

In the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that is the NFL, it seems baffling that there can be so many teams that can screw up the most crucial element of their roster so very badly. It is even more alarming now that the league is reportedly on the verge of a new deal for broadcast/streaming rights that will bring in revenues in the vicinity of $100 billion over the ten years it is expected to run.

If this seems like the height of incompetence, well, it is. And it reveals a dirty little secret. NFL management and staffs are not really that good overall. The ownership is almost entirely a bunch of extremely wealthy old guys who have found themselves in possession of a money-printing machine of enormous proportions, and don’t do a good job at all of making wise decisions. They tend to revert to cost cutting to improve the bottom line and are loath to give up either money or power to the players. As for the staffs, this is a rather telling bit of information.

The idea of the league being a meritocracy, at least in the coaching ranks, is a joke. Add in the known cronyism, where so many head coaches and coordinators bring in people they have worked with before (looking at you, Mike McCarthy), and it is no surprise that things are not exactly run in a forward-thinking way.

Add in that the Cowboys may have the biggest egos in the league making the decisions about contracts in Jerry and Stephen Jones, and it should not be surprising that they have fumbled the Prescott contract situation not once, but several times. Now they are threatening to do so again, worrying about how much of the cap he would eat up. That seems rather ridiculous given the looming flood of money about to hit the NFL. It also plays into their desire to have more control with a longer deal than Prescott and his agent want. When you think you are the smartest guys in the room, it is very hard to give in to someone who digs their heels in to maximize their earnings in a game that can end your career on any play.

It seems to be more than just a coincidence that so many quarterback situations are a complete mess just as a record deal with the broadcast/streaming partners is about to hit. Agents aren’t stupid, and even the poorly run teams are also aware they need to make some moves to be ready to capitalize on things.

Prescott is still one the biggest stories in the league as the new league year is bearing rapidly towards us, but those others are pretty significant as well. There are clear cases of teams that really blew things. The Jones family has to decide if they are going to continue to be part of that unfortunate fraternity, or do some things much more wisely than they have.