by Jordy McElroy
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has been more disprove-it than prove-it in a contract year that has gone about as bad as anyone could have imagined. A meltdown of cataclysmic proportions has the Cowboys riding a three-game losing streak and barely clinging to a lead in the NFC East.
Good quarterbacks are hard to come by in the NFL, and it has led to countless excuses regarding the consistent mediocrity put on display by Prescott behind center. Prolific stat-piling over bad teams like the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions emboldened apologists to come out of the woodwork and suggest the Cowboys quarterback deserved to rank among the elite.
Then there were the suspect performances against the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and even the New York Jets that forced those arguments to be walked back. Those performances are proof Prescott can go as hot and cold as a running faucet, setting the stage for a massive offseason headache for the Cowboys.
This situation seems oddly similar to what the Redskins went through with Kirk Cousins. The two sides disagreed on his value to the point of him being franchise tagged in back-to-back years for a grand total of $44 million. There was tons of drama with no resolution, and Cousins eventually walked out the door for free in 2018 and signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
Not only is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones losing on the football field, but he’s also losing at the negotiating table. Running back Ezekiel Elliott sat on the sidelines long enough to become the highest-paid player at his position—a feat that not even Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith was able to pull off. Cue Prescott’s impending new contract and Jones is sure to take another loss.
No amount of huffing and puffing to the media is going to convince Prescott to give Jones a team-friendly discount when the market is as rich as it’s ever been for mediocre quarterbacks. The Cowboys would love to re-sign him to a contract worth upwards of $30 million annually, but there’s a good chance Prescott’s head is in the clouds for a deal at least equal to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s salary, if not more.
That would potentially put Prescott’s numbers in the ballpark of $34-40 million per year.
Unless the 26-year-old quarterback miraculously turns it around and goes on a deep playoff run, he’ll be a likely candidate for a franchise tag in 2020. It’s a counterintuitive placeholder that would serve only to blow up in Jones’ face down the line. The salary cap is perennially increasing, and quarterbacks are continuously resetting the market. There will be no light bulb moment where Prescott suddenly decides to take less money.
That isn’t happening when Goff, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz and Derek Carr are all playing on $125-plus million contracts.
The Cowboys probably won’t be in a position to land LSU’s Joe Burrow or Oregon’s Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft. Even if they wanted to roll the dice on Alabama’s injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, he may not be healthy enough to help them next season.
Free agency and the trade market will likely be a barren wasteland as well. Unless Tom Brady or Drew Brees are signing a one-year deal, there really is no reason to consider any other options trumping what the Cowboys already have at quarterback.
This is the moment for Prescott to look across the table and utter the word “checkmate” to Jones.
The franchise tag option wouldn’t come cheap, and the Cowboys would also run the risk of souring future negotiations with Prescott. Cousins reached that point of no return with the Redskins where he was willing to continue playing on a ballooning franchise tag, but he grew cold on the idea of actually re-signing long-term.
Despite the struggles, it’s hard to make the case that any available quarterback gives the Cowboys a better shot at winning than Prescott right now. It’s the same trap that has ensnared so many other teams looking to fill the most important position on the field.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles just as recently went from being a backup to signing a four-year, $88 million contract with $50 million guaranteed as a starter. The Jaguars are probably already regretting that move in the first year of the deal, but it’s simply one of many examples of the lengths teams are willing to go to find a franchise quarterback.
Prescott is destined to follow in the footsteps of his peers as the next overpaid player at his position. It might take some public posturing and maybe even a franchise tag to get there—a couple minor inconveniences that will have to eventually be resolved by Jones’ cramp-free check-writing hand.