Dak Prescott's arm makes case for big payday in revamped Cowboys offense

·NFL columnist

Without fail, the highest form of NFL contract negotiations almost always involves a football field. Either when a player refuses to step onto it, like Ezekiel Elliott in the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason, or when a player steps onto it and crushes it in the process.

Dak Prescott did the latter on Sunday, making a remarkable negotiating point to start the 2019 season. If the Cowboys weren’t motivated to lock up a contract extension with Prescott before their season-opening 35-17 win over the New York Giants, they’re surely getting there now.

Sure, you can sit there and say, “It’s the Giants. They’re going to be awful.” But an NFL player can only play against the competition in front of him, and Prescott paired with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to disassemble New York’s defense.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 08: Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates during the second quarter of the game against New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Contract extension negotiations between Dak Prescott and the Cowboys improved after a rocky start. (Getty Images)

This wasn’t a game. It was a clinic. That is exactly what Prescott – if he’s going to be worth what Dallas will eventually pay him – is supposed to do against a bad team. He’s supposed to dominate. And Prescott did it with arguably the most complete game of his career, to the tune of 405 passing yards and four passing touchdowns in basically three quarters of work. That’s the second-most passing yardage of his career and ties the most touchdown passes he has ever thrown in a game. He also became only the second Cowboys quarterback with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

Afterward, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters in Dallas that Prescott’s extension is “imminent.”

“Oh, yes, I do know that we’ll get it done,” Jones said. “It would probably be fair to say it’ll be done on a imminent basis. Imminent. ... What’s imminent? Well, days. Days. Or something like that.”

If Sunday is what the offense is going to look like under Moore – with spread sets, run-pass options and a significant amount of pre-snap movement – it appeared to suit Prescott just fine. Not only was he efficient, but he spread the ball to seven different players and never looked remotely uncomfortable or slow doing it. Aside from a few minute timing issues on some drag routes, it was nearly a perfect performance.

It’s precisely what you want to start 2019 with when you’re still looking to land an elite-level quarterback extension.

So where does that stand for the Cowboys? Well, it wasn’t exactly in a simple place before Sunday. Prescott has a financial backstop in place with both his off-field endorsements and the insurance policies that protect him from loss-of-earnings in case of an injury this season. And his motivation to sign a deal quickly certainly isn’t going to increase if Sunday’s performance is an indication of Prescott’s next step. His play is his leverage. And playing like he did against the Giants only creates more pressure on Dallas, while giving Prescott some added motivation to hold out for the deal he believes he deserves.

But there is a rub. A league source familiar with the talks told Yahoo Sports money isn’t truly the biggest issue that slowed talks. It’s the number of years versus the money. If Dallas wants to sign Prescott to a Jared Goff-type of extension, then the franchise will have to swallow only locking up Prescott for a similar amount of time in what would basically be a near-fully guaranteed extension: four years for $134 million with $110 million guaranteed. Such a deal would allow the Cowboys to control Prescott through only the 2023 season. That means he’d be poised to hit free agency again at 31 years old, with a new collective-bargaining agreement in place and the ability to potentially set the quarterback market with a sizable amount of his prime years left.

If Dallas wants more control than just the next five years (this season, plus a four-year extension), it’s going to come at a price. If the Cowboys want something along the lines of traditional seven-year quarterback control, this extension is going to have to set the market and make Prescott the highest paid player in the NFL. That’s what the Cowboys will have to trade. More control means putting the money at the top of the heap. Particularly knowing that “highest paid” sash will be yielded quickly, with the Kansas City Chiefs set to put Patrick Mahomes at the mountaintop next offseason.

Sources have told Yahoo Sports the numbers have already advanced to a solid place after a rough start. Remember that $40 million per-year salary proposal that was previously reported? A league source said that number was the result of the Cowboys coming out of the box low on their initial offer to Prescott, which was in the range of $24 million to $25 million per season. Prescott’s camp apparently took that digit as an insult, and replied with a number north of $40 million to send a message along the lines of “stop screwing around and come with an offer that is realistic to the current market value.”

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, right, greets Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after their the Rams' win during an NFL divisional football playoff game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jared Goff established the QB market with his $134 million deal. (AP)

Since that exchange – which the league source said is far into the rearview mirror – talks have been far more productive. But the source added the Cowboys are still in the $32 million to $33 million range without yielding on giving Prescott a shorter deal. Largely because the team knows it still has three years of control, from this season through 2021 — with a total cash outlay for those three years that would likely be in the range of $61 million. It’s hard to give up three years of control at a $61 million price tag without getting something significant in return. Namely, a long period of control at a salary that fits into a Cowboys cap structure that is going to get tight in the coming years.

For now, it remains a negotiation. It may get done quickly, largely depending on whether the Cowboys want to budge on their stance of needing a longer extension than just four years. What’s clear is Prescott doesn’t appear to be in a hurry at this stage.

Not with what is on the line financially. And certainly not with him doing his best on-field negotiations to date.

Watch live NFL games on the Yahoo Sports app. (Yahoo Sports)
Watch live NFL games on the Yahoo Sports app. (Yahoo Sports)

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