Dak Prescott bet on himself. He just won.
On Monday, Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract worth up to $164 million, including a record $126 million guaranteed. Prescott will earn $75 million in the first year of his deal thanks to a record-high $66 million signing bonus and $9 million in base salary. That’s a lot of money, enough to make him the second-highest-paid QB in NFL history, based on new money. The icing on the cake: Prescott’s deal features both a no-trade clause and a no-tag clause, which brings a tense, yearslong contract saga to a comfortable ending.
When Prescott suffered a season-ending compound ankle fracture last season, it looked like Prescott might not get the money he desired. Yet, for all of the drama taking place across the NFL this offseason, who would’ve guessed the Dallas Cowboys would make what so far is the period’s most sensible decision? As ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler noted, people around the NFL were skeptical Dallas would figure out how to get a deal done after negotiations stalled last summer. But the Cowboys had no choice but to figure it out, and in doing so, both sides got what they wanted.
To understand how big of a win this deal is for Prescott, let’s rewind the clock a bit. Last July, Prescott and Dallas failed to reach an extension, and the team franchise-tagged the QB for $31.4 million. Prescott wanted a four-year pact. But the Cowboys wanted to lock him in for five years, and reportedly offered a deal that averaged $34.5 million and guaranteed $110 million. One year later, Prescott got the number of years he wanted and got paid significantly more than what was initially offered—despite suffering a season-ending injury. He’ll be 31 when he’s up for a new deal, presenting another chance to net a massive payday. Not too bad for a former fourth-round pick whose rookie contract paid him a total of $2.7 million.
Prescott’s injury didn’t hurt his contract negotiations. If anything, it underscored his importance to the Cowboys. Before he went down during a Week 5 win against the Giants, Prescott led the NFL in passing yards (1,856) and posted what would have been full-season career-high marks in yards per attempt (8.4), QBR (78.7), net yards per attempt (7.72), and Pro Football Focus passing grade (80.4). He carried first-year coach Mike McCarthy’s offense, guiding an epic comeback against the Falcons in Week 2, before setting career highs of 472 passing yards against the Seahawks in Week 3 and 502 yards against the Browns in Week 4. However, despite Prescott’s proficiency, Dallas started just 2-3 before he got injured, in large part because of its struggling defense.
Without Prescott, the Cowboys suffered from underwhelming QB play. Veteran Andy Dalton started nine games and wasn’t effective, completing 64.9 percent of his passes (24th out of 35 passers) for 6.5 yards per attempt (28th) while posting a 53.8 QBR (25th). Dalton battled both COVID-19 and a concussion during the season, and the Cowboys were forced to turn to third-string, seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci in three games (one start), as well as fourth-string journeyman Garrett Gilbert in one. Dallas finished 6-10, failing to capitalize on the NFC East’s miserable state last season.
when Dak got hurt I was so worried it was going to screw up his long-term contract but I think instead it just showed the Cowboys the bleakness of life without Dak Prescott at QB
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) March 8, 2021
The Cowboys didn’t have many other enticing options at QB this offseason. Had Dallas not re-signed Prescott or franchise-tagged him again, he would have been the best free-agent QB by a wide margin. Unless the Cowboys were interested in running it back with a Dalton-type veteran behind center, the open market didn’t offer any noteworthy names. Dallas picks no. 10 in the NFL draft, but there’s no guarantee any of the top four QB prospects—Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance—will still be on the board by the time the Cowboys pick. And as my colleague Rodger Sherman recently explained, teams haven’t been that good at identifying the draft’s best passers. Prescott already proved that he’s a star, so gambling again in the draft wouldn’t have been worth the risk.
The trade market didn’t offer any realistic starting-caliber players. Swapping Prescott for Seattle’s Russell Wilson never made sense, considering Wilson is five years older and wants more input on team direction. (Imagining the power dynamics between Wilson and Jerry Jones is … actually, that’s not even fun to picture.) The Cowboys don’t have enough capital to pry Houston’s Deshaun Watson from Texans GM Nick Caserio and Co. Besides, even though Watson is a better player, Prescott isn’t far behind. And while Prescott’s $40 million in average annual value is a high figure now, it will probably look like a bargain down the road. One can only imagine the reactions of star QBs such as Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, and Buffalo’s Josh Allen when they heard about Prescott’s deal. Each of those players is nearing the end of their rookie deals as the NFL is expected to negotiate new television broadcasting deals that should boost league revenues, and thus the salary cap. One of them will soon surpass Prescott’s $40 million AAV threshold.
For the Cowboys, this deal is a boon, even if it took longer than expected to reach this point and they paid more than they wanted to. It marks the third straight offseason in which they signed a star offensive player to an extension, following running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2019 and receiver Amari Cooper last year. But Prescott is the most important piece of that puzzle, and he gives Dallas assurance at football’s most crucial position. Additionally, Prescott’s deal gives the Cowboys some financial flexibility. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the pact includes two voidable years at the end, enabling the Cowboys to create space and make offseason additions with the future in mind. ESPN’s Adam Schefter noted that Prescott’s salary-cap figure for this year will be $22.2 million instead of the $37.7 million that it would have cost to franchise tag him. The move saves Dallas $15.5 million. Spotrac now projects the Cowboys to have $4.5 million in cap space.
If Prescott is still the Pro Bowl–caliber QB he was before going down, then this deal will look like a bargain. A few days after Prescott suffered his gruesome injury, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that the ailment “doesn’t change anything” regarding negotiations. “We’re all in on trying to get it done,” Jones said. He kept his word, and now both Prescott and the Cowboys are set to prosper.