An excellent argument can be made that no team in the NFL faces more difficult decisions regarding big-time veterans than the Dallas Cowboys. The team's top cornerback (Byron Jones) is about to enter free agency. So is defensive end Robert Quinn, who led the team in sacks in 2019. Top wideout Amari Cooper is about to hit the open market.
And then there's quarterback Dak Prescott, who finished last season second in the National Football League with 4,902 passing yards. As the Cowboys' fourth-round franchise find nears free agency, Dallas has reportedly made Prescott an offer that would make him the highest-paid player in league history.
It's a deal Prescott would be wise to accept. While this offer may not be perfect, it's as close to a win-win scenario as either he or the Cowboys are likely to get.
According to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys have offered Prescott a long-term extension that would average $33 million a season with $105 million in guaranteed money at the time of signing. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, both numbers would set new high-water marks in league history in terms of "new" money.
It's good work if you can get it.
Now, there's no guarantee Prescott will accept the offer. We don't know the nitty-gritty of the pact, and whoever first said the devil is in the details must have been studying an NFL contract. Also, as Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, Prescott has already balked at one deal that would have paid him $33 million a season.
At the time, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would continue making every effort to get Prescott re-upped long-term.
"I know he wants to get his contract in the rearview mirror, and we want it too," Jones said. "We want him to be treated well, financially and respectfully. We are going to have a real urgency to get this done."
Now it would appear the Cowboys have sweetened the pot a bit, probably by upping the guarantees in this new deal.
It's in Prescott's best interests to put pen to paper this time.
The biggest reason is a simple one—leverage. Right now, that leverage is squarely on the side of the 26-year-old signal-caller. But it's not going to stay that way forever. In fact, it's not going to stay that way for much longer.
The deadline for assigning the franchise tag to a player in 2020 is March 12. If Prescott hasn't signed a long-term extension by then, there's a 422 percent chance he'll be tagged. What's more, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys plan to use the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott, which means he couldn't even negotiate with any other teams. He'd be stuck—at least for 2020.
The approximate value of that exclusive tag? About $33 million.
Yes, Prescott could hold out and skip OTAs. But given that Dallas is adopting a new offense under head coach Mike McCarthy, that would hurt Prescott as much as the team. At some point, he'd report. And barring some sort of unforeseen disaster, come February 2021, Prescott and the Cowboys would do the same dance again—a dance that could conceivably end with another franchise tag.
The gamble could make him some extra cash—or cost him tens of millions of dollars. And make no mistake: This is all about money. According to Patrik Walker of CBS Sports, the biggest sticking point between Prescott and the Cowboys now isn't dollars but term.
The team (understandably) wants to lock Prescott up for as many seasons as possible. Prescott (understandably) wants a shorter-term contract that will allow him to cash in again in a few years after a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. And a new TV deal is struck. And the cap is higher. And Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have reset the market at the position…again.
There's a middle ground to be found, and it's important that the Cowboys find it. Because it's just as important to the franchise that this extension gets done as it is for Prescott's checking account.
Again, the primary reason is simple—Prescott isn't the only prominent free agent the Cowboys are concerned about this spring. Per Watkins, Jones admitted the team is trying to do as much as possible to retain as many key contributors as possible while dealing with the reality that if the new CBA is ratified, the transition tag won't be available as a tool to do so:
"It's what it is. We just have to figure out a way to do it. That was one of the reasons I've said was why I could have conceived not doing it. There's no question it's going to prove a bigger angst, but we're going to be better off for it, and I think we'll be better off for it as a team. But there's a little more challenge here on our part to not have both tags. To be trite."
If Prescott is locked up, the franchise tag is back in play. And that means Dallas can ensure Prescott has his favorite weapon in the passing game back in 2020.
As Jared Dubin wrote for CBS Sports in November, to say Cooper has had a positive impact on Prescott since coming over in a trade with the Raiders is an understatement. Prescott's completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating have all improved markedly since Cooper's arrival.
Yes, Cooper had a forgettable December, and youngster Michael Gallup had something of a breakout season. But if the Cowboys are going to maximize the return on the massive investment they are looking to make in Prescott, bringing back his favorite target is critical.
Get Prescott re-upped, and Dallas can ensure that happens—even if it means tagging Cooper.
It can be argued that Prescott doesn't "deserve" to be the league's highest-paid quarterback. And he's absolutely entitled to seek every single dollar he can get on his new deal.
But the reality is that Prescott is a top-10 NFL quarterback (at least) entering the prime of his career. Signal-callers like that get record-setting deals. It's just how the 21st-century NFL works.
Conversely, if Prescott is going to play in 2020, it's going to be in Dallas. It can either be on a one-year deal under the tag (with the risk that comes with it) or after a whopper of a payday that will set him up financially (and his children, and his children's children) for life.
Get the term of the contract and the fine print worked out. Get a contract that's a win for both sides put to bed.
And then get down to the business of winning the NFC East in 2020.