Projecting Dak Prescott’s contract: Cowboys QB could be in Patrick Mahomes’ neighborhood with new deal
Now that the Cowboys and Dak Prescott have reopened negotiations on a long-term deal with the two sides apparently not far apart, it appears to be a question of when, not if, the biggest bargain in the NFL over the past four years becomes the league’s highest-paid player — temporarily, that is, until Prescott is surpassed by Patrick Mahomes in the coming months.
Prescott bet on himself last season by playing for $2.025 million in the final year of his rookie deal as a former fourth-round pick. He turned down a reported $33 million per year extension offer with $105 million guaranteed last September. Now, his gamble should pay off, and the years of Dallas benefiting salary cap-wise from a less expensive QB are over.
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Although the Cowboys missed the playoffs by one game, Prescott had his most productive season in 2019 with 4,902 passing yards and 8.2 yards per attempt. He threw 30 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions and had a passer rating of 99.7 to rank 10th in the league. It added to his NFL resume, one that includes two playoff appearances, a playoff win in 2018 over Seattle, two Pro Bowl selections and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. His career record is an impressive 41-26 (including playoffs), and he has never missed a start.
In a normal year with no pandemic, the pressure would be on to finalize a long-term deal by the start of the offseason program on April 15, as Prescott would not want to hit the field with so much money at stake. With team facilities closed indefinitely, it appears the next deadline is July 15 when long-term deals must be completed with franchise tagged players after the Cowboys placed the exclusive franchise tag on him at an estimated $28.7 million for the one-year tender.
If no deal is reached by then, Prescott will be forced to play under the franchise tender in 2020, which would not bode well for his desire to stay with the Cowboys over the long haul. (See Kirk Cousins and the Redskins as a reference.)
The most recent offer within the past month by Cowboys owners/football execs Jerry and Stephen Jones to Prescott’s agent Todd France was reportedly $33.5 million per year with the guarantee closer to $110 million on at least a five-year deal. France is thought to be seeking a four-year contract to try and capitalize on new TV deals and an expected rise in the salary cap. The Cowboys’ norm is to do longer deals with their star players, such as Ezekiel Elliott’s six-year extension signed last year and Amari Cooper’s five-year contract agreed to just before the start of free agency two weeks ago.
France is surely telling the Joneses they’d be wise not to wait until Mahomes’ soon-to-be record extension is finalized and new TV contracts are negotiated once the pandemic subsides. Deshaun Watson could also get a big extension in Houston to make things more difficult. And Prescott could threaten to hold out from a limited offseason program and training camp (if they occur this year) without a long-term contract in place.
But the Joneses are likely telling France and Prescott that it’s risky to wait, as a potential shortened season and recession due to COVID-19 could affect the TV deals and skew team revenue projections, directly impacting cash flow available for a big signing bonus.
Thus, both sides should be motivated to wrap up this deal soon, which creates incentive to come together.
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I think Prescott and the Cowboys will settle on a five-year, $175 million contract that, at $35 million per year, will equal the average in new money for Russell Wilson under his latest extension. (But since Wilson had one year left on his contract when he signed the extension, his actual average over five years is $31.4 million per year.) Prescott would also exceed the new money in the deals for Cousins ($33 million per year on his two-year extension), and Prescott’s 2016 draft classmates who he has outperformed — Jared Goff ($33.5 million per year) and Carson Wentz ($32 million per year) under their four-year extensions signed last year.
Prescott will be aiming to exceed the current highest guarantee of $110 million in Goff’s contract. With Goff having 82 percent of his contract guaranteed and Wilson at 76 percent, it’s logical to figure Prescott’s guarantee will land at a minimum of $125 million (71 percent of the $175 million) on a five-year deal. Mahomes will also blast by that mark when his new deal is done.
The Cowboys have an estimated $22.4 million of cap room, and they can bring Prescott’s cap number down from the $28.7 million franchise amount currently hitting the books to about $20 million with a signing bonus in the $50 million range and a 2020 base salary of $10 million. (Wilson received a $65 million signing bonus on his extension.) That extra cap room could help Dallas sign its upcoming draft class with approximately $7.5 million needed and fill holes at corner after the departure of top starter Byron Jones in free agency and center with the retirement of Pro Bowler Travis Frederick.
I also think France will seek escalators in Prescott’s contract to increase base salaries in later years for outstanding performance, which would get him closer to Mahomes’ next deal, but the Cowboys will seek to limit such add-ons to an already rich deal.
The $35 million average per year is also important because I’m projecting Mahomes will sign a five-year, $220 million extension, which equates to $44 million per year in new money. But considering he’ll have two years remaining on his rookie deal once the Chiefs exercise the fifth-year option by May 3, Mahomes would then be under contract for seven years and approximately $250 million (with a $220 million extension) for an actual average of $35.7 million per year.
So, in reality, Mahomes would be the highest-paid NFL player by less than $1 million per year if Prescott’s deal reaches the $35 million per year mark.
A five-year deal would mean Prescott will be 32 years old when the contract expires, which is the same age that Wilson will be this fall as he starts his four-year extension. Prescott should still be in his prime as a quarterback when he can next hit the market. The five-year deal would also have him under contract through 2024, similar to Goff and Wentz.
There will be no Drew Brees-type discount in this deal for Prescott, who expects and deserves top dollar after earning the relatively miniscule sum of $4.9 million in total compensation over the past four years, including approximately $1 million in performance-based pay. (That is money paid out by the NFL to the lowest-salaried players who logged significant playing time as Prescott did as a rookie after he replaced an injured Tony Romo on his way to becoming the full-time starter.)
Perhaps Prescott will cut the team some slack in his next extension when his endorsement income will have risen even more as Brees has done and Tom Brady did for many years in New England.
The pot of gold is near for Prescott, who has played well while remaining steadfast and positive instead of publicly disparaging the Cowboys for making him play out his well-under-market deal.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on negotiation and sports business/sports management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.
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