Grading Dak Prescott’s four-year, $160 million extension: A+ for Dak, D- for Cowboys

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Doug Farrar
·4 min read
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On Monday, it was announced that the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott had agreed to a new deal worth $160 million over the next four years. Since the new deal can’t be official until the new league year, the Cowboys will have to place the franchise tag on Prescott for the second straight season — this will happen on Tuesday, March 9, the deadline for the tag to be applied, just to keep him safe from other NFL teams until March 17, when everything turns over. But it gives Dallas needed security at the game’s most important position, and it gives Prescott the earning power he deserves.

As a fourth-round pick in 2016 with a slotted financial picture based on draft order, Prescott made a grand total of $1,620,000 in his first three seasons. His base salary “jumped” to $2.025 million in 2019, which was still a massive bargain considering what he was giving the team in performance. So when the Cowboys gave him the tag in 2020 because a long-term deal could not be worked out, the one-year guaranteed salary of $31.409 million still seemed like relative chump change if you considered the dollars-to-talent ratio in the years before.

And as great as Prescott was in his first four seasons, 2020 was supposed to be the year he broke out into the stratosphere. Not that he had much to prove — from 2016 through 2019, his first four years in the NFL, the Mississippi State product had already done more than enough to be considered a franchise quarterback. In those four seasons combined, Prescott ranked seventh in the league in passing attempts (2,071), seventh in completions (1,363), sixth in passing yards (15,778) and eighth in passing touchdowns (97). His 36 interceptions tied with Matthew Stafford for the sixth-lowest total over that time among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 passing attempts. Prescott also ranked sixth in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (6.92), seventh in yards per completion (11.58) and seventh in passer rating (97.0).

So, Prescott had firmly established himself as a top-10 quarterback in every possible way even before the Cowboys selected speed receiver CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2020 draft. Adding Lamb to a receiver corps that was already stacked with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup? It appeared that Prescott was about ready to dive into the top five.

And until Prescott’s season ended in the fifth game of the season against the Giants due to a gruesome ankle injury, things were headed in that direction. Through the first five weeks of the season, Prescott ranked first in attempts (222), first in completions (151), first in passing yards (1,856) and tied for seventh in passing touchdowns (nine). While he also had four interceptions, there was little doubt that control of Dallas’ offense had switched from running back Ezekiel Elliott to Prescott.

The injury complicated negotiations as Prescott recovered, and it was thought that the second franchise tag was going to be more than a bridge until a larger-scale contract could be made official. But it’s good for the Cowboys that they made the deal, because the cap ramifications of a second tag would have been catastrophic. NFL rules dictate that a second franchise tag has to have a number at least 120% above the first franchise tag salary, so the Cowboys would have been on the hook for $37.68 million. Only Atlanta’s Matt Ryan ($40,912,500) would have presented a larger single-season cap obligation in 2021.

Prescott gets a per-year average of $40 million, which is the second-highest in NFL history behind Patrick Mahomes’ $45 million. Prescott also broke Russell Wilson’s record for the most first-year money in any NFL deal.

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Prescott’s $126 million guarantee is the highest three-year guarantee in NFL history, exceeding Deshaun Watson’s $124 million. Per Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com, Prescott’s cap figure will drop from $37.68 million to either $25.5 million or $22.2 million depending on the presence or absence of void years in the contract. In the end, as Fitzgerald also pointed out, Jones and the Cowboys really stuck it to themselves by not successfully negotiating a contract extension with Prescott before the first franchise tag became necessary. Dallas’ financial commitment to Prescott will average $38.3 million per season with $157.4 million in guarantees, and there’s no question that would have been less before Mahomes’ 10-year, $450 million contract extension last July reset the market for every superstar quarterback.

Still, the Cowboys escaped the fire of their own making to a point, and Dak Prescott will be paid what the market will bear based on his performance and potential. As contentious as this has been all along for no good reason, that amounts to a win-win situation — it’s just that Jerry Jones negotiated himself out of a much better deal.