Cowboys and Dak Prescott haven’t had positive contract talks in months. And his extension price is getting only steeper.

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

DALLAS — If there was any hope there might be a late-season contract extension push between the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott, let this reality sink in: The two sides haven’t had a productive exchange of proposals since the first month of the season. And the impasse is headed for even choppier waters after he’s hit with a franchise tag.

Sources familiar with the talks between Prescott’s camp and the Cowboys said the two sides have had little contact since September, with the last substantive exchange unraveling after Prescott’s camp indicated to the Cowboys that the extension price was increasing as the 2019 season went on. One source confirmed Prescott turned down a preseason offer that would have compared favorably to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, who signed a four-year extension for $128 million last June. In September, the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff also signed an extension for four years and $134 million.

Prescott’s contract situation is often framed inside the negotiation of those two quarterbacks, but the devil in the details is both of those extensions were “tack-on” deals, giving their respective franchises six total years of control (including the 2019 season). Dallas would like to get similar long-term control with Prescott, which has created an argument over the number of years in the deal. It has created this problematic sliding scale: The more years Dallas wants, the more it will have to pay in terms of overall money, guarantees and average salary per year. Conversely, Prescott’s camp would like a shorter deal — similar to the four-year extensions of Wentz and Goff — that would allow Prescott to continue rotating into free agency and keeping his salary commensurate with where the NFL is heading with elite-level quarterback pay.

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is on pace for a 5,000-yard passing season. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is on pace for a 5,000-yard passing season. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

QB market trend shows $40M per season isn’t bonkers

That’s why this entire negotiation hit a wall earlier this season and made it apparent by October that Prescott was headed for a franchise tag and a reset in negotiations this coming offseason. Not only was his extension price headed for an increase after Prescott’s hot start to the season, but his representatives are well aware two other young quarterbacks — the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson — could reset the NFL’s quarterback market this offseason with their own tack-on deals.

This means Russell Wilson’s league-record $35 million per season and Goff’s record $110 million in guarantees will no longer be the benchmark. Instead, the next round of quarterbacks will be shooting for that $40 million per-season barrier that seemed insane only a few months ago. That threshold certainly won’t be out of reach for Mahomes, who has one league MVP under his belt and should remain a staple in the “best quarterback” conversation for the next decade.

Prescott’s place in the $35 million-to-$40 million per-season rung might be more of a running argument. Particularly given that his spike in production this season hasn’t been enough to elevate an otherwise middling Dallas team. That’s not Prescott’s fault, of course. But team owners tend to break the bank more easily in the midst of a Super Bowl window. Either way, there’s no denying that if Dallas continues leaning heavily on the passing game, Prescott seems capable of handling that responsibility and responding with numbers that will put him in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.

That much has become crystal clear for Dallas since Prescott’s camp delivered the “price-is-only-going-up” message. Since making that clear to Cowboys ownership, Prescott has gone on to mount the best statistical season of his career, leading the NFL in passing yards heading into Week 15, while tied for fifth in the league in passing touchdowns with 24. As it stands, Prescott is on pace to throw for 5,073 yards. If he keeps that pace, it would set a team record for passing yards in a season and establish Prescott as the only Cowboys quarterback to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark in team history.

The Tony Romo payday example

There’s some history of note in those numbers that fans should understand because it will weigh on where Prescott’s negotiations go in a few months, after he’s hit with the franchise tag. The offseason after Tony Romo set the single-season passing yardage number for the Cowboys (4,903 in 2012), Jerry Jones rewarded Romo with a six-year $108 million tack-on extension that placed his overall salary just an eyelash below the highest-paid player in the NFL at that time (Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco). The deal was arguably better than Flacco’s because it was accompanied by the most guaranteed money in league history at that time ($55 million).

There’s some additional context around that financial windfall that will be important as Prescott’s camp makes its case for a record-breaking deal. First, Romo signed that massive extension after Dallas went 8-8 in 2012 — a season in which Romo threw 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while missing the playoffs. Romo was only a few weeks from turning 33. He also had notched only one playoff win in his seven seasons as the Cowboys’ starter.

Almost none of that context looks better than what Prescott could bring to the table this offseason. With a playoff push in the final three games, he may lay claim to three postseasons in his first four years — including a win over the Seattle Seahawks last January. He also won’t turn 27 until July, carries a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Romo had over the course of his career and has played for four seasons on a massively undervalued deal.

Given those realities and his current career-defining season — not to mention a progressive upward trajectory over his four seasons — fans should expect Prescott’s camp to continue mounting an argument that players like Wentz and Goff are a statistical tier below Prescott. And they might get some further traction in that argument this month, with Prescott facing off against Goff on Sunday and Wentz next week, before closing out the regular season against a moribund Washington Redskins team.

From that wide angle, the next few weeks could turn out to be very important when the contract wrangling resumes because as frustrating as this extension effort has been, it can and likely will get worse in the coming months.

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