Cowboys can't avoid heavy bill due after fumbling Dak Prescott's extension

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Now, as always, the Dallas Cowboys say they want Dak Prescott to be their quarterback. Now, as always, Dak Prescott says he wants to be quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Seems simple. It isn’t. Not now. Not always.

The 15-day window for NFL teams to place the franchise tag on possible free agents began this week. The tag essentially anchors a player to the club for another year at a predetermined amount — in the case of Dak/Dallas that’s about $37 million.

The two sides have until March 9 to work out a long-term deal, but since this is the third consecutive offseason when they have negotiated a contract — failing twice already — there isn’t a lot of optimism even though neither wants to split up.

A year ago, things broke down because Dallas wanted a five-year deal. Prescott wanted it limited to four. The Cowboys were forced to franchise him for $31.5 million. Then Prescott injured his ankle five games into the season and was lost for the year.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 13: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Dak Prescott is in the driver's seat in his contract negotiations with the Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

A dispirited Cowboys team went 4-7 without him to finish 6-10. Dallas scored 11.5 fewer points in games without Prescott, including just one touchdown in the first three games after he went down. Its total offense fell from 488 yards per game to 319. Passing yards dropped from 381.4 to 204.9.

Dak will be 28 by the start of next season, his sixth in Dallas. After 2020, there can be no questioning the value of the former fourth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. He may not have proven himself among the league’s ultra elite, but he’s plenty good on the field. He also provides an oversized amount of locker room leadership.

The question is whether Dallas wants to bend to him in order to lock him up for the next three years.

Really, the Cowboys don’t have much of a choice and it’s their own stubbornness that got them to this point in the first place. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has acknowledged the obvious: Prescott has a lot of power in these negotiations, mainly because Dallas has no Plan B at QB (backup Andy Dalton is a free agent as well).

The Cowboys will either offer a deal Prescott will accept, or they franchise him for one more season and hope this will finally work out. That is likely fine with Prescott, who would get a big payday for 2021 and then have even more leverage in 12 months.

The franchise tag buys Dallas a season, but it also puts the team in a tough position going forward. A year from now the Cowboys could be in the same place, only using the tag for a third consecutive season would push Prescott’s pay into an untenable $54.4 million and thus not really an option.

Unless Dak agreed to a deal then (which would make little sense if he wants to be a free agent in 2023) he would enter free agency as an in-his-prime, high-quality quarterback.

As this year’s quarterback derby has shown, contending teams will trip over themselves to get him. The Los Angeles Rams gave up two first-round draft picks and starting QB Jared Goff to get Matthew Stafford out of Detroit. What’s Prescott worth when you don’t have to trade anything?

Dallas would be left with nothing other than a compensatory draft pick in return.

The other option here is a sign-and-trade, sending Prescott somewhere this spring which would at least allow for guaranteed return. Dallas has expressed no interest in that.

If the Cowboys franchise him in March, they might need to draft a quarterback this spring as a potential long-term replacement. Dallas owns the 10th overall pick, which will allow it to get a highly regarded prospect. Of course, under Jones’ leadership, the Cowboys haven’t drafted a quarterback before the fourth round since 2001.

Maybe they'll try the mid-round route that got them Prescott or the unsigned free agent path that yielded Tony Romo.

This is the mess Dallas is in.

“I don’t know how you could have any leverage,” Jerry Jones said in an interview with 105.3 The Fan.

Well, Jerry all but gave it to Dak. The Cowboys should have taken the four-year deal a year ago and had Dak wrapped through 2023. Now it makes little sense for Prescott to move off that date as the end of his deal — meaning he seeks a three-year contract, among other items.

For Jerry Jones, just wanting Prescott to be his QB and having the QB wanting to play for Dallas isn’t enough.

He either figures this out or it gets increasingly complicated going forward.

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