Will Dak Prescott's Huge Bet on Himself Pay Off?
Prescott turned down a long-term deal this summer, opting to play under the franchise tag
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Cowboys.
No. 17: Dallas Cowboys
2019 Record: 8-8
Points For: 434 – Points Against: 321
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 10
As of this writing, there are only four teams in the NFL that Las Vegas oddsmakers are anticipating will have more wins than the 10 victories the Dallas Cowboys are projected to get this season: the Kansas City Chiefs (11.5), Baltimore Ravens (11.5), San Francisco 49ers (10.5) and New Orleans Saints (10.5). If the Cowboys do reach double-digit victories during the 2020 regular season, the biggest reason will likely be quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott, 27, has never had a losing record since taking over as the starter in place of Tony Romo four seasons ago, posting an impressive 40-24 overall during his tenure under center for the Cowboys, all of it coming under former Dallas head coach Jason Garrett.
Now, with former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy running things in Big D, Prescott will be returning to run an offense that was sixth in the NFL in scoring as well as point differential last season. As a team, the Cowboys lost half of their games in 2019 by four points or fewer (12 points in all), meaning they were — in a sense — two touchdowns away from finishing at 12-4 and in the playoffs instead of 8-8 on the outside looking in.
Although the eight wins were the fewest of his young career, Prescott had a breakout year in 2019, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game while throwing for almost 5,000 yards to go along with 30 touchdowns (fourth in the NFL) and 11 interceptions.
This offseason, the two-time Pro Bowler was expecting to be paid like other franchise quarterbacks in his age range like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. That didn’t happen, as Dallas was unwilling to give Prescott a four-year deal that would make him a free agent at age 31, and he was unwilling to take a reported five-year deal that would have guaranteed him no more than $110 million.
Instead, Prescott accepted the one-year franchise tag, and will play the upcoming season for $31.4 million. He’s eligible to be tagged again in 2021 and ’22, but it’ll cost the Cowboys $37.7 million to do it a second time, and an even more substantial amount to do it again after that.
So after 2020, the onus will really be back on the Cowboys to get a deal done, as they likely won’t want to pay Prescott almost $40 million for one season and then risking losing him for nothing or having to pay him an even higher salary if they use the franchise tag for the third, and final, time.
History is not on their side: of the eight quarterbacks who have been designated as franchise players since 1993, only two actually played under the designation (Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and Kirk Cousins with Washington in 2016 and ’17), and neither one signed a long-term contract with his team afterward.
“I’m a Cowboy and couldn’t be happier,” Prescott told USA Today in. July after signing to play under the tag. “I look forward to working along Coach McCarthy, the staff, and my teammates to be the best team we can be in pursuit to our goal of a Super Bowl.”
How close the Cowboys come to achieving that goal in 2020 will likely determine whether Dallas ultimately opts to retain Prescott as the team’s franchise quarterback in 2021 and beyond. Making the playoffs and winning a game (which Prescott has already done) or two could be all the incentive Jerry Jones needs to break the bank and keep his quarterback. And if the Cowboys make a Super Bowl or Prescott wins an MVP award — which certainly seems plausible with a supporting cast that includes star wideout Amari Cooper, game-breaking running back Ezekiel Elliott and rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb — Jones will have no choice other than to hand his QB a blank check.
Those are big “ifs,” but McCarthy, who had a 125-77-2 record and 10 playoff appearances in 13 seasons with the Packers and helped manage Brett Favre as well as develop Aaron Rodgers, could be the guy to help Prescott turn them into realities. McCarthy, who had a top-10 offense in yards or points nine times with the Packers, certainly seems to think so.
“I think he’s gotten off to a great start. He’s built a really good foundation. I’m told he’s a tremendous leader,” McCarthy said in February after he was hired. “Defenses get you to the championship. The quarterbacks win championships. And I definitely think Dak is that quarterback.”
If McCarthy is right, Prescott is also going to be a very, very rich one. And even if he isn’t, a big payday could still be coming Prescott’s way — albeit in a different team’s colors.
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