With training camps set to start in a few weeks, the NFL plans to be back to business as usual soon—at least as "usual" as anything gets in 2020.
However, one bit of business in the past week was anything but usual: the 10-year extension that the Kansas City Chiefs gave star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
That deal, which could push north of a half-billion dollars, didn't just reset the market at the quarterback position. It was the largest contract in the history of professional sports.
Mahomes' extension might have a major impact on the negotiations between teams and a few other young quarterbacks who are looking for new contracts of their own.
The clock is ticking on Prescott and the Cowboys coming to terms on a long-term extension. If they don't agree to terms by July 15, Prescott will play on the $31.4 million franchise tender in 2020 and will become a free agent next offseason.
No one should expect Prescott to land a deal that approaches Mahomes' extension. In three NFL seasons, Mahomes has already won a Super Bowl and an MVP award. Meanwhile, some in the league believe Prescott is barely a top-10 quarterback, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
"He'll get paid as one of the best, but he's certainly not top-five and marginal top-10," one AFC exec said. "That great rookie season set the stage for him to hit another level that he never really was going to hit. The bar got set high and I don't know if he can reach it. Hasn't thrown it as well since ."
However, Prescott reportedly doesn't want a deal like the one Mahomes got—at least in one respect. According to ESPN's Todd Archer, the sticking point between Prescott and the Cowboys isn't money so much as contract length. The Cowboys' latest offer is for five years, but Prescott is looking for a four-year deal to get another bite at the free-agent apple more quickly.
When it comes to leverage, Dallas is just about fresh out of it. Prescott has no real impetus to run to the table and sign an offer. Not with over $31 million in guaranteed money waiting for him. If the Cowboys tag him again in 2021, that number will climb to $38 million, per Archer. A third straight tag would exceed $50 million.
He could effectively get what he wants one year at a time.
Not only that, but Mahomes' new extension won't lower Prescott's salary demands. If you look at that contract as a 12-year deal, then it averages $39.75 million per season, per Archer. In terms of "new" money, that figure balloons to $45 million per season.
For the Cowboys to have any hope of getting Prescott to bite on a fifth year, an extension might have to average over $40 million per year—with 60-plus percent of the total pact guaranteed. That's admittedly unlikely, as Prescott and his camp have held firm regarding the length of pact they are seeking.
That leaves the Cowboys with two options. The first is to acquiesce and give Prescott a four-year contract that looks like a souped-up version of Russell Wilson's deal with the Seattle Seahawks ($35 million per season with $107 million guaranteed). In other words, they could up their latest offer a bit per year and cave on the length.
The second option is to play out 2020 and do this all over again next spring.
As Mike Fisher of CowboyMaven noted, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once said "deadlines make deals." Perhaps that will be the case again this time.
According to NFL Research, of the eight quarterbacks in NFL history who were franchise-tagged, only two (Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins) played the ensuing season under that tag. Both eventually signed with new teams.
Down Interstate 45 in Houston, there's another young quarterback approaching a big payday of his own—one whose career has been connected to Mahomes from the get-go.
Back in 2017, the Houston Texans selected Deshaun Watson two picks after the Chiefs took Mahomes. Watson hasn't excelled quite like Mahomes (who has?), but he has been outstanding in his own right. In each of the past two years, he has led Houston to the playoffs and made the Pro Bowl.
Now entering his fourth season, Watson is coming up on extension time.
"You have to do as good a job as you can of making sure that you take care of your quarterback," Texans head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien told reporters at the combine in February, per Mark Lane of Texans Wire. "I think that's important when you have a great young quarterback. But at the same time, you've got to have a team around him. So, there's a lot of challenges to that."
The most challenging part for the Texans is that Watson is even less enamored with a Mahomes-esque deal than Prescott, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. He's reportedly seeking only three new years on his extension in an effort to hit free agency again as soon as possible.
On one hand, this appears to be a no-brainer for O'Brien and the Texans. Watson has quickly become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks—the type of player who can carry his team at times.
"That Buffalo playoff game (last year)—they won that game because of that guy. Nobody else," one veteran offensive coach told Fowler. "They had at least three free runs on him late and he made huge plays."
But the Texans also have more leverage over Watson than the Cowboys do over Prescott. After picking up Watson's $17.3 million fifth-year option for 2021, they won't have to use the franchise tag on him until 2022 at the earliest.
That doesn't preclude the Texans from giving Watson an extension, but the Cowboys are under far more pressure to get a deal done with Prescott. The Texans can also continue negotiating with Watson's camp into the fall if they please, unlike the Cowboys and Prescott.
If the Texans extend Watson in 2020, it will be because they want to—not because they need to.
Once Prescott and Watson get their day at the cash register, it will be Lamar Jackson's turn.
And then things will really get interesting.