Cowboys have a contract mess with Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons

"Yeah, here we go," indeed.

The Cowboys have made most of their headlines this offseason by: (1) claiming they're all in for 2024; and (2) doing absolutely nothing to prove it. That dichotomy has helped conceal a far bigger problem the team has, a problem that might be keeping them from going all in.

They have contractual messes with three of their key players: quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver CeeDee Lamb, and Micah Parsons. And they've shown no inclination to do anything other than delay, delay, and delay.

That's how they got into their current mess with Prescott. By not offering him a fair contract after his third season as a fourth-round, Day 1 starter, the Cowboys tabled the matter until after his four-year deal expired. Then, they used the franchise tag and didn't sign him to a long-term deal before the mid-July deadline, delaying the issue again. When faced with the application of a second tag and no ability to punt for another year (for his third tag, he would have gotten a 44-percent raise over his second tag), the Cowboys panicked, giving Prescott a four-year, $160 million contract that guaranteed he'd get to the open market without an extension.

Now, they seem content to let him finish the contract and hit the market in 2025. Basically, he'll be next year's Kirk Cousins.

The Cowboys seem to be banking on the fact that no other team will pay him whatever he has been seeking in talks aimed at extending the deal, last year and this year. They also seem to be daring him to leave, believing that the attraction of playing for the Cowboys — with the marketing and post-career opportunities it entails — will get him to take their best offer, whatever it might be.

It's a calculated risk that the Cowboys have no choice but to embrace, because they painted themselves into a corner by dragging their feet early in Dak's career.

They're doing the same thing with Lamb. Four years into his 2020 first-round contract, they can squat on him for the fifth-year option (at $17.99 million) and a franchise tag, or two. By waiting, however, they're only making the eventual contract more expensive. Especially after other receivers (like Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase) get their second contracts.

The Cowboys could end up painting themselves into a corner again by waiting, and it might cause them to let Lamb hit the open market without ever giving him a second multi-year deal.

Then there's Parsons. Some think the take from the team's flagship radio station that his act is "wearing thin" was planted by the team, in an effort to leverage him to want less. If that's not the case (and we believe it isn't), the Cowboys probably should find a way to publicly repudiate the opinion, given the whiff of legitimacy the relationship between the Cowboys and 105.3 The Fan carries.

The Cowboys had no qualms about posting on their official website an item that twisted the words of Lamb to make it look like he won't boycott offseason workouts. Why not take 15 or 20 minutes and cobble together something that pushes back on the comments about Parsons?

It's a strange situation, all things considered. And it raises questions about whether the Cowboys truly know how to manage, and mollify, star players in the salary cap/free agency era.

Their last run of championships came with a team built and maintained in the early days of free agency. They haven't compiled a championship roster since then. Their current effort to do so has been undermined by ill-advised delay tactics when it comes to paying their best young players.

They did it with Dak, they're doing it with Lamb, and it could be coming with Parsons.

How is this happening? For all that Jerry and Stephen Jones have done to keep the team so prominent and successful and valuable as a business, they really haven't been able to polish off a roster that can thrive on the field — as evidenced by the TWENTY-NINE YEARS between NFC Championship appearances.

As suggested on Tuesday's PFT Live, the Jones (despite all the things they do well) seem to be three things when it comes to properly handling young star players: (1) cheap; (2) short-sighted; and (3) not as smart as they think they are. (All due respect.) And it's keeping the Cowboys from being as good as they can be.

So that's the thing to be mad about, Cowboys fans. Don't be mad at the players for wanting fair contracts. Don't be mad at the media for pointing out the dysfunction. Be mad at the Cowboys, who seem to think playing for the team has some sort of inherent value that should cause players to happily take less.

That tactic doesn't work. And they don't seem to be willing to admit it.