All signs point to the Dallas Cowboys using the franchise tag to keep Dak Prescott this offseason. Here’s why they should avoid doing so if possible.
The Cowboys drafted Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Very few quarterbacks picked on Day Three of the NFL Draft have had success in the NFL. In the past 25 years, only New England Patriots’ Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Brad Johnson have won Super Bowls drafted after the third round.
That is what Prescott and the Cowboys hope for in their future. The road to the Super Bowl will get much tougher next season when Prescott’s salary jumps from his 2019 salary cap hit of $2.1 million to at least $33 million.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported this week that the Cowboys and Prescott appear destined for the franchise tag which will be valued at least $33 million in 2020 and then $40 million in 2021. If this happens, everybody loses.
The Cowboys have enough salary cap space in 2020 to afford the franchise tag without any restructures. According to Spotrac, the team has $22 million in cap space this year that will roll over next year and only $132 million in contract commitments for 2020.
The problem for the Cowboys is they only have 36 players under contract in 2020. Assuming Prescott signs the franchise tag tender, they would have about $56 million to sign at least 16 players.
The Cowboys list of pending free agents is long and full of starters. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Maliek Collins, and Robert Quinn, defensive backs Byron Jones, Anthony Brown and Jeff Heath, wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, and tight end Jason Witten are all pending unrestricted free agents.
The production from those players will be very difficult to replace with much less cap space. The problem gets even worse if the Cowboys sign Cooper who is proving to be a top ten, maybe even top-five, wide receiver in the league.
It will be hard for the Cowboys to improve and compete for Super Bowls when up to eight starters will leave as free agents. Given the team’s record and schedule remaining in 2019, could the Super Bowl window be closed before it even opened?
Prescott loses because he is risking long term guarantees by continuing to bet on himself. It is reasonable to think the Cowboys have offered a minimum $100 million in guarantees.
Prescott would be risking around $70 million if he were to be significantly injured before signing a long term deal. At some point, the risk needs to outweigh the reward.
Maybe he had a chance to talk to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday. Cousins played on consecutive franchise tags with Washington before signing a fully guaranteed three-year deal with the Vikings.
If Dak takes this route, he would be looking at nearly $200 million for the next five years. But how has the strategy worked for Cousins? His teams have yet to make the playoffs through the first three years. But his bank account is flush with cash.
At a certain point in time, the motivator for a player will switch from money to legacy. Tom Brady made the decision after the 16-0 regular season ended in a Super Bowl loss. He regularly agreed to strategic contracts that allowed the Patriots to use the extra money to sign really good football players (7:10 minute mark).
While Prescott will have a flush bank account assuming he stays healthy, how much does he value winning? You can’t buy a Lombardi trophy.
The best outcome for Prescott, the Cowboys and most importantly Cowboys Nation is for the two sides to reach an agreement that avoids the franchise tag. While nothing encourages both sides to find common ground like a deadline, it would be wise for Prescott and the Cowboys to see the end game, create urgency and avoid the inevitable contract posturing.
At the end of the day, the Cowboys have to find the balance to sign Prescott and other really good players. Prescott also needs to find the balance between his bank account and his legacy.
Cowboys Nation loves Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman for winning Super Bowls. Tony Romo‘s popularity will wane and soon he will be remembered more for being the CBS lead analyst than the Cowboys passing yards leader. Let’s hope Prescott wants to be more like Roger and Troy than Tony.