Did the Dallas Cowboys Overpay for Dak Prescott?

Apr 6, 2020

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Dallas QB Dak Prescott has started 64 regular-season games for the Cowboys and is 40-24 as a starter with two NFC East titles and two trips to the Pro Bowl under his belt. Having finished out his rookie contract, Dallas owner Jerry Jones decided to place the exclusive franchise tag on his quarterback on March 16.

Was it the right move? The exclusive franchise tag, which hasn’t been used since Washington placed it on Kirk Cousins, means that Dallas will be on the hook for roughly $33 million for Prescott. That number comes from the average of the top-5 NFL quarterbacks’ salaries. Isn’t that a bit steep?

Yes, It Is
Prescott was a fourth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. He signed a rather modest $3.6 million rookie contract in 2016. Prescott was thrust into the Cowboys starting quarterback job when Tony Romo went down with an injury.

While Prescott has performed admirably, keep in mind that Dallas has won just one playoff game in four years. Statistically, he does not come close to some of his contemporaries.

Yes, Prescott had his best season in 2019 throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns, but compare his last four seasons to Russell Wilson in Seattle. Or his last two seasons to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.

Think about this. Before 2019, Prescott averaged 22 passing touchdowns per season and had never surpassed 4,000 yards in a single season. His highest quarterback rating came in his rookie season.

Wilson is the league’s highest-paid player with a $35 million average annual salary. Dallas offered Prescott roughly $33 million per season and he turned it down. The Dallas quarterback is surely worth more than the $4 million or so he has made thus far in the NFL, but to think he should be on par with the league’s highest-paid players…that’s just crazy.

No, He’s Worth It
Prescott came into his own last season with career highs in completions (388), attempts (596), yards (4,902), and yards per attempt (8.2). He also threw a career-best 30 touchdowns and watched his passer rating improve to 99.7 in 2019 since a career-low in 2017 (86.6).

Over four seasons, Prescott has led the Cowboys to an average of 10 wins per season. There are also the two NFC East titles and two playoff berths. Prior to Prescott’s arrival in 2016, Dallas had won just one division title and had just one winning season since 2009. That has to count for something, right?

Real Effect of FranchiseTag
The exclusive franchise tag simply means that no other NFL can negotiate with Prescott. Dallas now has until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract with its quarterback. All this does is delay the inevitable – Prescott is going to get a premium contract.

Applying the franchise tag buys Dallas some time to negotiate a new long-term deal with Prescott. While he might not be a top-5 quarterback, the Cowboys signal-caller is still a top-10 or top-15 guy. He has already turned down $33 million a year and the franchise tag will earn him that amount for the 2020 season.

Jones and the Cowboys have a couple of options in working out a new deal with Prescott. There is the traditional long-term franchise quarterback contract. That would be a five-year package worth somewhere in the range of $170 million with about 70 percent, or $130 million, guaranteed.

The best examples of the traditional franchise deal include Wilson (4 years, $140M, $107M guaranteed), Jared Goff (4 years, $134M, $110M guaranteed), and Carson Wentz (4 years, $128M, $108M guaranteed). All of these deals were extensions to existing contracts though.  Dak Prescott would be starting new.

Another option is a shorter team contract that is fully guaranteed. That was the route Kirk Cousins took in Minnesota when he signed a three-year, $84 million contract in 2018.  Dak Prescott could take a similar route and ask for more, like $33 million per year (what he will earn under the franchise tag this year).

It’s also possible Prescott plays out 2020 on the franchise tag and watches as Mahomes negotiates a new deal in Kansas City. His contract will likely reset the entire quarterback market as Mahomes could potentially be the NFL’s first $40 million-per-year quarterback.

With another strong season in 2020, Dak Prescott could move closer to the top-5 and Mahomes than the top-15. The Dallas quarterback could gamble and bet on himself in the hopes of an even bigger payday in 2021.