Deshaun Watson Extension Puts Pressure on Cowboys in Dak Prescott Talks

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2020

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott hurries out of the pocket during an NFL football training camp practice at The Star, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Brandon Wade/Associated Press

It feels like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the last big domino to fall when it comes to the next wave of NFL mega contracts for franchise passers. 

Patrick Mahomes made all the big headlines with his 10-year, $450 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

And quietly over cutdown weekend, the pressure on the Cowboys—as if it weren't bad enough while trying to cut to 53 with a 16-man practice squad and no preseason games to look at—got amplified thanks to the Houston Texans

Those Texans slipped a big extension reveal ahead of the cutdown news cycle, revealing a four-year extension worth $156 million for franchise passer Deshaun Watson, planting him at an average salary of $39 million—second only to Mahomes himself. He'll be the highest-paid player in base salary on average for those four seasons. 

Brett Coomer/Associated Press

Keep in mind that's a quiet bit of extension work that went on for months between Watson's reps and the Texans. It unfolded in "organized, cordial fashion," according to Aaron Wilson and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. And not only did the Texans give Watson the years he wanted, but it also unfolded in this manner amid the organization facing plenty of public scrutiny over moves such as trading star wideout DeAndre Hopkins. 

And that leaves Prescott twisting in the wind a bit. It's no secret the prominent standoff item between the Cowboys and their franchise passer was the length of the extension itself. In March, the Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins reported the team offered $33 million per year. But Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk later pointed out Prescott wants a four-year extension, not five. 

Rinse and repeat at the July deadline to extend tagged players, per Jane Slater of NFL Network: 

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Prescott will play 2020 on the franchise tag, only checking in at $31.4 million, ninth in average salary among quarterbacks. That's behind Philadelphia Eagles passer Carson Wentz, who has noted attendance issues, as well as Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams

The Watson extension throws a ton of pressure on the Cowboys to bend on the years front, never mind the money. And the fact Prescott could massively cash in on a second tag if the front office won't play ball doesn't help things from the organization's perspective: 

Clearly, the Cowboys didn't need a lot of help from the likes of the Houston Texans; Prescott had plenty of his own leverage going into this season. 

Feel free to tack on the Cowboys' track record with quarterbacks. Prescott was a gem of a fourth-round find—the front office actually settled for him in 2016 after a failed attempt to move up in the first round and draft Paxton Lynch. Oh, and they wanted Connor Cook too, missed on him and instead grabbed a defensive end at No. 101 before shrugging their shoulders and taking him at No. 135. 

Lynch, by the way, was cut by Pittsburgh the same day of Watson's extension, and Cook was last seen in the now-defunct XFL. 

So it's not like the Cowboys can bank on amazing evaluations and decisions to up and replace their current franchise passer. All Prescott has done since joining the team is complete 65.8 percent of his passes with 97 touchdowns against 36 interceptions, never mind the 40-24 record. He's never had a Pro Football Focus grade lower than 72.2. 

For those keeping score, Prescott has played in 64 games to Watson's 38. The Texans star has completed 66.8 percent of his passes with 71 touchdowns and 29 interceptions with a 24-13 record, but it's pretty clear which passer has been more consistent for longer. 

Fans of advanced metrics won't see many angles to hit Prescott from, either:

To be clear, Prescott has taken on plenty of risk by not settling for what the Cowboys offered too. But he's been workmanlike in never missing a game, and his consistency is there. He's still flanked by elite weapons like Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, never mind the arrival of 17th overall pick CeeDee Lamb. 

And while it might be simple to wave off Prescott as somebody due for a statistical regression, falling short of his 65.1 completion percentage with 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions from a season ago wouldn't be anything to scoff at. And on paper, a long-awaited coaching overhaul sees quarterback guru Mike McCarthy at the controls of the offense. 

Again, any numerical regression gets easily counteracted by Dallas' even lucking into Prescott in the first place, never mind that it doesn't mean much if the team's record improves from last year's 8-8 finish. 

Call Watson's mega deal the finishing blow for Cowboys leverage. If the team even sniffs a postseason win in 2020 (we're talking about an organization with three of those since 1997), Prescott's got every justifiable reason to leapfrog Watson into the $40 million average range while getting the years he wants on top of that. 

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

In hindsight, it could be problematic the Cowboys didn't get something done before the Texans, especially as they currently sit on roughly $14.2 million in cap space and future cap numbers could be reduced as league revenue takes a hit with fans mostly absent from stands. That, and Prescott has watched the Cowboys hand out big-money extensions to Cooper, Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence and others in recent years. 

Barring a collapse of epic proportions that Prescott hasn't even hinted at to date, Watson's deal just confirms he's been in the right in terms of money on an extension, never mind more than justified in seeking out something shorter than five years. (Remember, five years can turn into multiple tags, carrying him well beyond his age-30 season.) 

The Cowboys will have to eat the loss on the wager here, which, to be blunt, is a loss most teams wish they would have to take. Having a franchise quarterback to build around and compete for Super Bowls isn't exactly a common thing in today's NFL. 

All Watson's deal has done is put even more pressure on the Cowboys, though it falls into the "good problem to have" category if the front office can get creative in meeting Prescott's demands and locking him down for the long term.