Are the Cowboys really about to franchise tag Dak Prescott again — and perhaps seal his exit?

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Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·4 min read
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Jerry Jones always wants the biggest and best for the Dallas Cowboys, and now he’s within a day of giving them a new record: Richest Franchise Tag in NFL History.

That number, $37.7 million for the 2021 season, barring a major change in direction, will do little other than assure Dak Prescott wears the Cowboys star for one more year … before he basically becomes a coveted, unrestricted free agent capable of leaving Dallas in the lurch.

In the meantime, the 2021 Cowboys will be allocating a massive amount of their salary cap (projected $180 million) to a quarterback on a one-year rental agreement.

This can’t be happening, can it?

Seems like it. Jones has had three years to make a deal with his franchise quarterback and for whatever reason he’s been reluctant. He could have signed Dak for five years and then four years, but he wanted more. Pretty soon he’ll get no years.

It’s the oddest of hills for Jones to make a stand. He’s 78 years old and his beloved team hasn’t reached a conference championship game in over a quarter century.

Is this the uncertainty at the most important position he wants? Is the likelihood of another rebuild really a path he wants to take?

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, right, has had plenty of chances to keep Dak Prescott around long-term. He's just about out of them. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, right, has had plenty of chances to keep Dak Prescott around long-term. He's just about out of them. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

Prescott may not be Patrick Mahomes, but he’s just 28 and plenty good enough. When he went down with an ankle injury last season, the Cowboys tanked — both on the field and in the locker room.

They went 4-7 without him to finish 6-10. They scored 11.5 fewer points in games he didn’t play. They managed just a single touchdown in the first three games after he went down. Total offense fell from 488 per game to 319. Passing yards dropped from 381.4 to 204.9.

Normally getting injured and missing games isn’t the best way to prove your value to an organization, but the numbers — and the visuals — don’t lie.

“He’s clearly the leader of this football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Prescott’s injury.

And yet here we are. Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, the latest Dak deadline hits. Either agree to a long-term deal — likely three years at this point — or franchise him. The Cowboys could still work a sign and trade up until the start of the new league year on March 16.

That could return a bounty of assets and at least offset the inevitable doom. There is no buzz around the league that such a thing is even being entertained, though.

If it’s a tag situation for 2021, then Dallas goes into next offseason still seeking a long-term deal or it would have to apply a third consecutive franchise designation on him, only this time to the tune of about $54 million — or about 30 percent of the cap that season. That’s prohibitive.

So Dak would be a free agent, capable of entertaining all offers. The market for a QB of his capability is significant. Long ago rich and famous, he could pick which franchise he thinks offers the best path to actually winning … and that likely won’t be Dallas.

If you’re tired of hearing about the Dallas-Dak Drama, it’s understandable. Cowboys fans have to be sick of this never-changing storyline, and the unknowns of the future, dominating everything. Everyone else just watches in befuddlement.

Franchises run far worse than Dallas tend to cling to a young quarterback such as Prescott, who they stole in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft. You count your lucky stars, lock up your guy long-term and laugh at everyone else scrambling to find one like him.

Not having a quarterback paralyzes everything. It dominates too much energy and oxygen in the front office. Even as a contender is built on defense or the offensive line, there is that dread that you’ll never truly get over the hump until you find a QB.

The Indianapolis Colts are in a state of treading water, now gambling they can revive the career of Carson Wentz. The Los Angeles Rams had to give up two first-round picks just to upgrade from Jared Goff — who has won more playoff games (two) than Prescott (one) and actually led L.A. to a Super Bowl — with Matthew Stafford. Chicago, Carolina and Washington are still searching for anything. No one knows what’s next in San Francisco.

The Houston Texans won’t give up on a guy that hates them.

In the NFL, you either have a guy or you don’t.

Dallas has a guy.

Yet Jerry Jones continues to paint himself and the team into a situation where soon enough it won’t.

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