NFL Analysis


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Dak Prescott's Price Is Only Going Up — So Why Haven't Cowboys Signed Long-Term Deal?

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first half of the 2024 NFC wild card game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are all in on 2024. It’s become increasingly clear that this means less about putting all available resources into the upcoming season and instead using it as a tipping point for the team's future.

Finally get that playoff success that has escaped the franchise since the 1995 season (the last season they won the Super Bowl or even appeared in the NFC Championship Game)? Great! Keep the band together and spare no expense. Falter again in the playoffs in the divisional round or earlier? This team will look different.

The biggest piece that hinges on this upcoming season is QB Dak Prescott. Prescott will enter this season in the final year of his contract. Despite each side suggesting they want an extension, there has been no progress. That would set Prescott up to be a free agent following the season due to a no-tag clause in his deal.

A potential Prescott free agency could change the landscape of the entire league. But before we get there, let’s dive into what is at stake for all parties involved.

Why Are We Here?

That’s a great question! For maybe 31 other teams, we could expect a quarterback in this situation to be signed already. But for the Cowboys, this is a negotiation that appears to be in no rush. That also includes upcoming deals for CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons.

Despite three players whose new deals could put them among the top-paid players at their positions, Dallas does not want to set that market. The Cowboys are content with waiting out other deals, especially at quarterback, and reacting to them instead of being proactive with early agreements that could save them money in the deal's early years.

During a pre-draft press conference, Jerry Jones admitted they want to see what happens across the league before making a move.

"We'd like to see more leaves fall," Jones said. "We'd like to see more action. It's called option quarterback. I've spent my life [playing] option quarterback. I want to see some more cards played."

But those cards are only going to get more expensive to play. It’s as if you were sitting at a blackjack table, and after each player, before you went, your personal ante goes up.

There are quarterback contracts upcoming for Jordan Love, Trevor Lawrence, Jared Goff and Tua Tagovailoa. We’re a year away from a potential Brock Purdy deal. Not all of those will top the $55 million per year or $184 million in three-year cash set by Joe Burrow’s market-leading contract. However, they could come close given the increase in the cap every year.

We’re likely looking at $50 million per year as the floor for most of these deals. If none of them top Burrow, the Cowboys could have an argument to keep Prescott below that figure, but it would not be a good one. Regardless of when this deal gets done, Prescott is slated to be the league’s highest-paid quarterback.

Haven't The Cowboys Been Here Before?

You would think once would be enough, but this isn’t even the first time the Cowboys have waited to commit to Prescott long-term.

When Prescott’s rookie deal expired in 2019, Dallas did not immediately extend the quarterback despite his strong performance. By EPA per play, Prescott was a top-10 quarterback among qualified passers during his rookie contract.

Instead, the Cowboys had him play on the franchise tag for the 2020 season, which cost $31.4 million and 14.4 percent of the cap. Despite the franchise tag figure being the average of the top five salaries at the position, Prescott had the highest cap hit in the league because other teams structured quarterback deals to keep the cap hits low.

When these two sides eventually came to an agreement, Prescott received the highest first-year cash figure at the time, $75 million. That was in part due to a $66 million signing bonus that remains the second-highest for a quarterback. Only Lamar Jackson’s $75 million from his contract last offseason beat it.

That large signing bonus allowed the Cowboys to spread out the biggest parts of the cap hits over five years, but Dallas has continued to restructure the deal and add to those figures. For 2024, Prescott will count for $55.1 million, 21.2 percent of the cap, the league's second-highest mark.

What Is The Cowboys’ End Goal Here?

Another great question! If the Cowboys are really just waiting out the other quarterback deals to see what happens at the top of the market, they’re only set to save a few million in total on the contract.

However, if Dallas had been proactive and signed Prescott earlier, the deal's structure could have significantly decreased his 2024 cap hit and created space to bring in more free agents to help in an “all-in” season. The risk greatly outweighs whatever reward there is from waiting.

The Cowboys' outlook is that Prescott must prove his worth in this upcoming season with a supporting cast worse than last year. The offensive line lost multiple starters, and the only major running back added was Ezekiel Elliott. Outside of Lamb and the up-and-down Brandin Cooks, the Cowboys are banking on development from somewhere, whether it be Jalen Tolbert or KaVontae Turpin playing a bigger role. 

If the Cowboys need to have playoff success for Jerry Jones to commit to the best players on this roster, it’s an unfair weight to put on those players with an objectively worse team around them. If those are the expectations, it’s only setting them up to fail with such a small window considered a success for the upcoming season.

What Happens If Prescott Doesn’t Sign Before The Season?

This is the most interesting scenario and possibly the most realistic. Because Prescott can’t be tagged, he’d be in a Kirk Cousins-like situation with the Vikings. Dallas can want him back all they want, but the Cowboys would have to deal with other teams jumping in. Quarterbacks like this don’t hit the market often, so teams get aggressive when they do.

Cousins was a 35-year-old quarterback coming off an Achilles tear and still received $100 million guaranteed while the Atlanta Falcons were considering drafting a quarterback eighth overall.

Prescott will only turn 31 in July and has been one of the league's best quarterbacks during the past three years. From 2021-2023, Prescott ranks third in EPA per play.

If Prescott hits the open market, there will be plenty of suitors. Teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos could be in the market for a quarterback. Then, there’s the New York Jets, who could be in the final year with Aaron Rodgers. There’s also the Miami Dolphins if they don’t sign Tagovailoa to an extension before the season.

Miami and Mike McDaniel could view Prescott as their Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams — a quarterback who adds more to an already effective offensive scheme. If Stafford retires, Prescott could also be Stafford for the Rams themselves. 

In this scenario, Prescott would easily become one of the league’s highest-paid players. That’s the leverage he has with the Cowboys, and it will only get more expensive. Dallas could want to wait, but Prescott will make his money no matter what or where it comes from. 

Dallas could realize that and pay him now, but the Cowboys had the chance to do that all offseason. Prescott could also be all-in for this season, betting on himself with the market waiting for him in the offseason.

That could leave the Cowboys left at the table with nothing.