If Cowboys bottom out near top of draft, they have to consider Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields

With each successive Dallas Cowboy loss — four consecutive at this pointDak Prescott’s value to, and leverage over, the franchise has grown more clear.

Sans Dak, the Cowboys stink. He was clearly the glue that pulled a collection of disparate parts into something of a winner. The need for Dallas to sign Prescott to either a long-term deal or at least franchise tag him for another year at the cost of $37 million is obvious despite the ankle injury that ended his season.

“Dak is our quarterback,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reiterated on 105.3 The Fan.

Except …

Dallas is 2-7, which ties it for the third-worst record in the NFL behind the 0-9 New York Jets and the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Cowboys still have three games remaining against other terrible NFC East opponents. It’s hard to see Dallas losing out. But with the second-worst scoring margin in the NFL at minus-86, there is at least a possibility it winds up with a top-two pick, perhaps even the No. 1 selection should the Jets (don’t laugh) win some games.

None of this was fathomable a month ago, when Andy Dalton was the backup and a weak schedule was in front of the Cowboys. The math, though, has changed. And it might continue to change.

Jerry Jones is rightly swatting away any notion the Cowboys might draft a quarterback if they get a high pick. For now. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Jerry Jones is rightly swatting away any notion the Cowboys might draft a quarterback if they get a high draft pick. For now. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What if Dallas bottoms out and has a chance to select Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, the top two QB prospects in the draft? What if the Cowboys could get a prospect they coveted and could ride a rookie contract rather than put such huge resources into Prescott?

“You ask me if it’s crazy to bring the idea up?” Jones said during the radio interview when asked about just that scenario. “And I’ve answered it, ‘Yes [it’s crazy].’ It’s not the thing to be talking about at all. Dak is our quarterback. We’re so fired up about him and leading us into the future. We’re fired up about our future with Dak.”

Jones’ answer is smart business. He isn’t a fool. There is no need to undermine confidence in the future or rock any potential contract negotiations by answering a hypothetical that is still a lot of games from fruition.

There is nothing to be gained by engaging in that kind of speculation. So he shut it down.

Except ...

If Dallas winds up in the top two of the draft, it will absolutely, positively consider drafting either Lawrence or Fields. It would be ridiculous to not consider it. The Cowboys would be doing a disservice if they didn’t scout those players, debate those players, calculate what freed-up salary cap room would mean to a roster that lacks more than just a QB.

That shouldn't insult Prescott. It wouldn’t signify that they think less of him. It would simply be the business of football, where everyone is expendable because everyone has a price (salary).

And the low price of rookie quarterbacks is a big, big deal.

The 2020 NFL team salary cap is $198.2 million. There is a chance it will drop for 2021 due to COVID-related revenue declines.

Joe Burrow, the No. 1 selection in the 2020 draft, signed a four-year deal with a total cap hit of just $36.2 million. His 2020 number is just $6.35 million. Prescott’s 2020 contract, meanwhile, is $31.4 million. If Dallas franchise tags him, his 2021 cap number will be around $37.7 million.

Getting a great quarterback on a first contract is perhaps the best competitive advantage a team can have. It gets high-quality play at the most important position on the field, but on the cheap. The extra money can be spent elsewhere.

Baltimore and Seattle won Super Bowls in the 2012 and 2013 seasons with Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson, respectively, earning entry-level money. Same with Philadelphia in the 2017 season (Carson Wentz was the starter before injury) and Kansas City in 2019 (Patrick Mahomes).

New England won three times and Denver once during that stretch, but veterans Tom Brady and Peyton Manning took less than they could command to help with their team’s cap situation.

A maxed out quarterback won’t prohibit a team from being successful, but it is an additional challenge that must be weighed against the value of his play.

Dak is a very good quarterback. But is he $25 million to $30 million per year better than Lawrence or Fields? Is he so good that he’s worth what 10 starters might collectively get? Even the next three highest-paid Cowboys on the 2020 roster — Amari Cooper ($12 million against the cap), Ezekiel Elliott ($10.9 million) and DeMarcus Lawrence ($9.9 million) — cost only $32.8 million combined against the max.

Dallas, of course, could also trade a top-two or three pick for a bounty of draft picks, all of whom would come in on cheap contracts as well. The interest in Lawrence and Fields will be considerable.

That should be considered as well. All of it should be considered.

Including using the pick.

So, sure, Jerry Jones is shooting down any question about the situation. That makes sense.

For now.

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