Sometimes in free agency, we only think about players a team signs that come from outside the organization. Re-signing your own players just doesn’t have that same sizzle that bringing in a big name from outside does. That leads to a lot teeth-gnashing about the Cowboys slow-rolling free agency and not going after the premier free agents.
Perspective, though, is sometimes a very good thing to have. In the case of the 2021 Dallas Cowboys, we can’t forget that. Because the Cowboys, by almost all accounts, signed the number one free agent that was available in 2021. Scour almost any list of ranked free agents before the signing period started, and Dak Prescott’s name was atop that ranking. He had everything needed to top those lists. He played quarterback, the most important position, he had had very productive years statistically, and he was entering the prime of quarterback years. Of course that pesky ankle injury was a knock against him, but his recovery seemed to be right on pace.
So in that sense, you could say the Cowboys made the biggest move of all free agency. In fact, in an ESPN round-table of NFL observers, the signing of Prescott was labeled by two as the best overall move of free agency.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: The Cowboys re-signing quarterback Dak Prescott. Viewed in the big picture, the Cowboys got a Pro Bowl quarterback locked in until he is 31. Including last season’s time on the franchise tag, the Cowboys will have controlled at least five of his seasons after the expiration of his rookie contract. Yes, they paid a premium to do it, but Prescott’s price only would have gone up in 2022 — and could possibly have been prohibitive.
Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: The Cowboys re-signing Prescott. It was the most consequential move. In a league of haves and have-nots at quarterback, Dallas was tiptoeing dangerously close to crossing that line in the wrong direction. In terms of expected performance over the next five years, Prescott is probably a top-six or seven QB. When you have that player on your roster, you pay him and are grateful that you have the chance to do so.
Locking down Prescott was the key to the Cowboys fortunes, in 2021 and in years beyond that. If the Cowboys had kept Prescott on a franchise tag for 2021, that would have likely been his last season in Dallas. In 2022, the Cowboys would have to re-set at quarterback, leading either to a “bridge” quarterback, or just taking the plunge on a rookie. And most rookies are not going to have a season like Prescott had in 2016 when he was a rookie. There are usually always growing pains, and no matter how high you draft a quarterback, there is still a good chance they don’t work out.
No one was happier about signing Prescott in free agency than head coach Mike McCarthy.
“I was actually in Florida when the deal was finally completed,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday. “It’s a lot easier to do cartwheels on the sand, I’ll say that. . . . I was obviously very excited. He is definitely a keystone of moving forward as a football team. I was very excited about that.”
McCarthy, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, are building their offense around Prescott, and the continuity of having him in the system will become more significant each year. That pesky ankle injury doesn’t seem to be a problem, either.
“He was just finishing up his workout on the field as I walked in here,” McCarthy said. “He’s making progress and he’s on course. I’m excited about Year Two of the offense because frankly in a lot of ways we feel like we really didn’t get to have Year One. We’re excited about what we can do this year with a healthy offense.”
Obviously we’d all like to see the Cowboys bring in some big-time help in free agency, but we can’t lose the perspective that they actually did that. It was probably the ability of the Cowboys to franchise tag Prescott that doesn’t make it seem like as big of a deal as it was, because the fear of losing him this year was never really there.
But put into perspective, signing the top free agent on the market to a long-term deal was a huge move in free agency for Cowboys.