Dak Prescott has unique leverage over the Cowboys

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

At a time when there’s plenty of talk about players betting on themselves, Dak Prescott made one of the biggest self-bets in NFL history. And he has won.

Prescott refused any and all long-term offers from the Cowboys, embracing the risk of injury and ineffectiveness in his contract year. Now that his contract year has ended, he’s on the brink of a long-term deal from the Cowboys, one that will be fueled by leverage that no player has had since Joe Flacco in 2013.

Seven years ago, Flacco parlayed his preseason refusal to sign a multi-year deal into a Super Bowl MVP and a long-term contract struck as the Ravens faced the dilemma of applying the non-exclusive franchise tag or the exclusive tag. That’s the posture Prescott and the Cowboys currently occupy, with Dallas having to choose between the non-exclusive tag (at roughly $26 million per year) and the exclusive tag (currently projected to be $33.4 million). The former allows a team to sign Prescott to an offer sheet that the Cowboys can’t/won’t match, surrendering a pair of first-round draft picks as compensation. The latter keeps Prescott of the market, but it unlocks a potential year-to-year approach that sees the tag spike to $40.08 million in 2021 and $57.715 million in 2022.

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Either version of the franchise tag presents another problem for the Cowboys. If tagged, Prescott’s leverage becomes enhanced by the fact that he can choose to take a page from the Le’Veon Bell playbook and stay away from the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason — without being in violation of his contract or otherwise losing a dime. Which would significantly complicate Mike McCarthy’s first season as head coach of the Cowboys.

The path to a solution is clear, but not cheap. The Cowboys need to treat the tag deadline as a hard deadline for getting a long-term deal done, and they need to offer Prescott a deal in the range of $31 million per year.

Yes, $31 million per year. Not $35 million or $37 million or $40 million. Because Prescott has no contract, the new-money analysis won’t drive the valuation artificially north. The value at signing is what matters for Prescott, and Russell Wilson‘s contract has an at-signing value of $31.4 million per year (the new-money average is $35 million).

If the Cowboys don’t make that kind of an offer, Prescott can choose to pursue the Kirk Cousins strategy, with a caveat. Unlike Cousins, who promptly signed his two franchise tenders in Washington, Prescott has the power to throw a major wrench in the preseason preparations by simply refusing to accept the tender until it’s time to start playing regular-season games.

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