The National Football League’s never-ending contract story in Dallas might actually come to a conclusion next week — or at least be put on the back burner for a while so that we can talk about something else.
After a year and three months, and a number of false starts and near misses, the financial standoff between Dak Prescott and the Cowboys is approaching its first significant deadline.
Dak Prescott has earned his money. 💰#SFYin60
— Speak For Yourself (@SFY) May 19, 2020
On July 15, if Prescott and the team have not come to terms – amiably or otherwise – on a long-term solution, he will play out next season under the franchise tag, and the whole dance will be put on pause until 2021.
The drawn-out tale has lasted for long enough that the latest dramatic wrinkle, that of Patrick Mahomes landing a $503 million, 10-year blockbuster extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, is only a small chapter of the narrative.
Yet the Mahomes money is part of it, if simply because negotiations between Prescott’s agent Todd France and Dallas owner Jerry Jones have become such a fierce arm-wrestle that each side will take whatever leverage it can get.
“Jerry Jones does believe in Dak Prescott as a long-term answer for his team,”FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless told Undisputed. “He just doesn’t think he is Patrick Mahomes. Does anybody out there in viewer-land think Dak Prescott is Patrick Mahomes right now? Can anybody in good conscience make the case that he is better than or equal to, that guy?”
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) July 7, 2020
Here is the part where the numbers get bamboozling, not just because of the fact that they contain enough zeroes to make the eyes water, but because NFL contracts are complex devices that are about much more than simply how much cash ends up in said player’s bank account.
Prescott wants to feel he is being treated like, and being paid like, one of the top quarterbacks in football. The Cowboys are willing to do that, but there are sticking points over length and guaranteed money and the per year average and pretty much everything else you can think of.
The problem is that both sides have valid points to make, and while France’s job is to get the best deal for his client, Jones’ is to try to keep enough salary cap space for the Cowboys to be contenders.
Patrick Mahomes lands a $450M, 10-year extension. @ShannonSharpe explains how this will affect Dak Prescott’s deal with the Cowboys:
“Dak really has Jerry on the barrel, because guess what’s coming down the pipeline? Deshaun Watson & Lamar Jackson!” pic.twitter.com/SfUkFZeImO
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 7, 2020
The Cowboys want a five-year contract, reasoning that given how difficult this agreement has been to make, they don’t want to be in a rush to go back to the negotiating table any time soon.
Prescott wants four years, to hit the open market sooner and capitalize on what may be a spike in television money during the intervening period. That’s where he diverges from Mahomes, who was happy to commit for 10 years extra and 12 total – the sort of span that is generally seen as being team-friendly. Half a billion, presumably, helped Mahomes feel better about making that concession.
“The good news for Jerry Jones is Jerry loves long term,” Bayless added. “All of a sudden, Jerry can turn to Dak and the agent and say, ‘Hey, look what he did. Would you like to go seven, would you like to go eight?’”
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) June 23, 2020
The Mahomes contract, despite its longevity, has additional relevance to both sides. Mahomes had two existing years remaining, so France will look at the new money portion, which is equivalent to $45 million per year, and try to use it as a barometer.
You can equally be sure that Jones will look at the contract’s overall value, specifically the first five years of new money at $39.55 million each, and position that Prescott is well behind the Super Bowl champion by any meaningful criteria, which includes their respective playoff records.
Furthermore, the Cowboys will have Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers’ $35 million a year deals in their arsenal. France might be able to push Prescott up to something approaching $38 million a season, but it will be tough.
Prescott had a fine year, yet the Cowboys could not get to the promised land or anything remotely near it, going on a grim mid-campaign losing streak that ultimately doomed coach Jason Garrett.
Here are the projected top 3 passers for next season, according to FOX Bet. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/SiIPE99nlv
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) June 17, 2020
“When we’re ready to play, he’ll be there,” Jones told ESPN, back in April. For sure, but under what terms?
Forget about headlines screaming that Mahomes’ deal is fantastic news for Prescott and a miserable development for the Cowboys. It is much more nuanced than that.
However, one thing unrelated to Mahomes that may push Jones up a bit is that next year’s franchise fee would be $38 million, then an unworkable $54 million after that. If France gets Prescott above Wilson and Rodgers, and higher than the $110 million of guaranteed money that Jared Goff secured, he’ll have done a decent job.
But maybe neither party have expectations that are close enough, or realistic enough, for this thing to happen now.
— SportsDay Cowboys (@dmn_cowboys) July 7, 2020
“Sports contracts are like real estate comps,” Kevin Sherrington wrote in the Dallas Morning News. “Meaning Dak’s price just went up, too. Before Monday’s announcement, I’d have guessed the top end of Dak’s market at $35 million. Now that number looks like the starting point.”
It has all dragged on for so long that you itch for a resolution. And for Prescott, who played last season for $2.1 million, to finally get paid in measure with his talents.
But the mischievous side of us enjoys this to-and-fro, an ultimate test tube of what exactly player power means in 2020. It is strong enough that a really good, but not yet great quarterback, can stand up to one of the most famed franchises in the NFL and get what he wants?
Time will tell – and there’s not much time left.