For only the fourth time in NFL history, a quarterback will play out a season under the franchise tag as the Dallas Cowboys failed to reach a contract extension with Dak Prescott before Wednesday’s deadline for designated players to reach a long-term agreement.
The two sides remained locked in their stance over contract years versus salary right up to the deadline, scuttling any chance of a deal that would have resolved the most pressing issue for the Cowboys over the past year.
Now, Prescott heads into his first franchise tag season, joining Drew Brees, who played under the tag for the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and Kirk Cousins, who played under two consecutive tags for Washington in 2016 and 2017.
Prescott’s move forward into his first tag year also sets up one of the more remarkable showdowns in the history of NFL free agency in 2021, with both sides expected to return to these same trenches: Dallas likely franchising Prescott for a second straight year in 2021 and the quarterback again pushing for a deal that would make him one of the highest-paid players at his position.
The impasse boiled down to basic contract math and leverage, sources told Yahoo Sports this week. Dallas was ultimately prepared to pay Prescott a deal that exceeded all the quarterbacks from his draft class in 2016, including former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, who has appeared in a Super Bowl and signed a four-year, $134 million extension with more than $110 million in guaranteed money and an average salary of $33.5 million. That deal was a tack-on for the Los Angeles Rams, who ultimately gained control of Goff for six total years once the deal was consummated.
Dallas was willing to exceed the Goff deal for at least five years of control over Prescott, something that Prescott’s camp wasn’t entertaining without a significant bump over Goff in annual salary and total guarantees. That reality set up a significant chasm approaching Wednesday, with both sides unwilling to bridge the gap.
With Prescott repeatedly telling his representation that he was willing to continue betting on himself, it reinforced a stance that became simple: Given that Dallas has the right to franchise tag Prescott for the next three seasons (from 2020 through 2022) at a cost of more than $123 million in guaranteed salary, the quarterback’s deal coming into this deadline needed to start there — with $123 million in guarantees and an average-per-year salary that was approaching $40 million.
Furthermore, if the deal was going to put Prescott under contract for at least five years, a competitive deal in light of the recent Patrick Mahomes extension in Kansas City and the coming extension for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson would place Prescott in the $40-million-per-season average.
It was inside that framework of expectation that things broke down for Dallas. The quarterback market moved considerably — and it happened at a time when Prescott had played himself onto the doorstep of significant leverage.
Now, Dallas will pay him $31.4 million on a one-year deal in 2020, setting up two future franchise tags that are expected to land at $37.7 million in 2021 and a massive $54.2 million in 2022. Should the Cowboys not tag Prescott again in either 2021 or 2022, he will become an unrestricted free agent in that year’s class.
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