Andy Dalton and Dak Prescott Can (and Should) Coexist in Dallas

Dalton is only in Dallas to provide a steady hand at backup QB

Dalton Prescott
Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass in the first quarter of a game against the Cleveland Browns on December 29, 2019.
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys sent shockwaves around the NFL on Saturday as the team came to terms with former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. The deal, reported by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, includes $3 million guaranteed and could rise to as much as $7 million for the nine-year veteran.

Let’s get this out of the way: that deal represents amazing value for the Cowboys. For a paltry sum, they get a steady hand at backup quarterback, one who plenty of teams in need of a veteran gunslinger — did the New England Patriots not call Dalton? — would have gladly slotted in as a starter. In his nine-year career, Dalton has thrown for 31,594 yards, along with 200 TDs and a quarterback rating of 87.5. Those aren’t superstar numbers, but they are surely the numbers of a guy you could trust to win a few games in a starter’s stead, particularly if the rest of your team is better than what the Bengals threw out there last season.

Of course, there’s a catch. Dallas is not one of the teams in need of a new quarterback. They’ve got Dak Prescott, a 26-year-old star in the making, under center. Prescott threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season, with a 30-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Cowboys might have disappointed as a team, only managing an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs, but Prescott was as good as one could hope, leading the Dallas offense to the sixth most points in the league last season.

It gets complicated here, though. Prescott has not signed a new contract in Dallas, and currently has a dead man’s choice entering next season: he can either play under the $31 million franchise tag tender offered by the Cowboys, or he can hold out and not play while angling for a better contract. (He could also sign an extension, but despite reports that Dallas would pay him big, there has been no movement on that front.)

So how does Dalton’s signing affect Prescott? A cynical observer could take the signing as a way to pressure Prescott to not hold out. After all, it’s a lot easier to have leverage as a quarterback if your team doesn’t have a viable option at backup, which the Cowboys do. But it would be insane for Prescott to not play, even before Dalton signed — $31 million will put him at sixth on the list of highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, even if it is just for a season, after all.

That might not please former Cowboy Dez Bryant, who took to Twitter to admonish Dallas for not paying Prescott, but the franchise tag isn’t a poison pill for the quarterback. He could play himself into a huge contract, either in Dallas or elsewhere, with a season that lives up to his current cap number. A season under the franchise tag is not the worst thing in the world for a 26-year-old Pro Bowler. Plus, the two parties have until July 15 to hammer out a potential extension, so that option — ideal for both Prescott and the franchise — isn’t dead yet.

So why did Dallas sign Dalton, then, if not to take back leverage in the Prescott negotiations? According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, it’s pretty simple: Dallas figured it would not be able to get better value for a backup quarterback at this stage in the game:

“I’m told the Cowboys did not plan to go the veteran quarterback route after the draft. They were going to stand pat with the Jameis Winston, Cam Newtons of the world. But when Andy Dalton became available later in the week, they simply saw him as good value. This is a guy who’s well respected around the league. He can start games for you or he can be a trusted backup. They felt it was a win for both sides.”

Sometimes, the NFL can be that simple. Dallas saw an option that wouldn’t break the bank in case Prescott gets injured, Dalton gets to move back to his home turf in Dallas — he’s from Katy, Texas, and has a home in the Dallas area — and Prescott still reigns as the starter while his contract negotiations get worked out. Sure, it’s more intriguing to think of this as a power play by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but for once, he seems to be playing the smart, safe game by exploring all his options.

If things go well all around, Dalton will likely not take many meaningful snaps this season. And if disaster strikes in some form, the Cowboys are covered. It’s a win-win all around.

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