In an offseason that could see unprecedented quarterback movement, one of the league’s best is staying put. After Dak Prescott played an injury-shortened 2020 season on the franchise tag, the quarterback and the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a four-year deal worth $160 million with $126 million guaranteed, according to Adam Schefter.
Last offseason saw the sides fail to agree on the length and value of a long-term deal. While a lot of numbers were thrown around, reported, and speculated, what we could focus on was the argument over the length. The Cowboys reportedly wanted to sign Prescott for five years while the quarterback wanted a shorter four-year deal to hit free agency again sooner.
Both technically got what they asked for in this deal. The four-year deal will allow Prescott to hit free agency again as a 31-year-old after the 2024 season but with the tag and the long-term extension, the Cowboys kept Prescott under team control for five years after his rookie deal expired. Had Prescott’s camp wanted to keep the same timeline that would have seen him hit free agency again as a 30-year-old by pushing for only a three-year deal, negotiations could have been much trickier.
The tag ended up working for both sides in the deal. Dallas got that extra year of team control and Prescott used the designation to his advantage in his new deal. The contract comes with a no-tag and no-trade clause, both big additions that will allow Prescott to fully control his next contract. Before this deal officially gets signed, though, the Cowboys will place the franchise tag on Prescott, which means if another team were to tag Prescott in the future, it would count as the third tag, which would bring 144% of his previous year’s salary and as those numbers increase, that tag number would be huge.
All of the numbers in the deal are huge, but the Cowboys also smartly worked them out to not hinder the cap in any year of the deal. Prescott got a $66 million signing bonus, which will result in him receiving $75 million in Year 1, but there are two void years tacked on to the end, which will stretch out the bonus. This is something we’re likely to see a lot with big deals this offseason as teams adjust for the drop in cap. Teams confident in cash flow — as the Cowboys clearly are — can throw huge figures in signing bonuses that stretch out over multiple years with a first-year salary that is quite low. That’s the case here, while Prescott will receive $75 million in the first year, he’ll only count for $22.2 million on the cap in 2021. That’s lower than the dead money hit ($33.8 million) the Philadelphia Eagles will have on the cap for Carson Wentz this season and the exact hit the Los Angeles Rams will take on Jared Goff.
Prescott’s deal will average $40 million, but only the final two years will see the cap hit will reach that figure. Those numbers rise as the cap is expected to once again and this deal structured by one of the most influential franchises should be good news for the impact of the upcoming TV deals for the league.
The question, of course, is if Prescott is worth this type of money. The answer is a pretty clear yes. Not in an “if you have a quarterback you need to sign him” kind of way likes teams have already regretted with Goff and Wentz, the two quarterbacks selected with the first two picks in Prescott’s draft class. Teams across the NFL have learned to not settle on big money for quarterbacks who don’t elevate those around them. The passing environment is too friendly to pay an average passer a top-of-the-market deal while he doesn’t bring anything extra to the offense. But Prescott’s play has warranted that type of compensation.
Save for a down 2017, Prescott has at worst been a comfortably above-average passer. He’s routinely been better than that. Take a look at his index stats over the past five seasons. For each stat, 100 represents league average and every point is a percentage above or below average. For example, Prescott’s 122 YPA+ in 2020 was 22% above average.
Dak Prescott Index, 2016-2020
*stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference
Throughout his career, Prescott has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league at avoiding sacks and interceptions. He’s done all that while keeping the top-end play at a high rate, unlike an Alex Smith or Derek Carr, who spent most of their careers limiting the risk without aggressively pushing for the reward.
His limited 2020 was a fascinating example of this, considering the circumstances. Prescott had to throw often in 2020 due to the struggles of the Dallas defense and while that may have impacted some of his counting stats — remember when he was on pace to break passing yards records early in the season? — his rate stats weren’t impacted. Prescott’s 8.4 yards per attempt were 22% above league average as noted above and would have finished second behind Deshaun Watson (8.9) had Prescott ended the season with enough pass attempts to qualify for the NFL’s final leaderboard (226 attempts — Prescott had 222). Still, that YPA figure ranked second among 36 quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts on the season.
And despite having to push the ball while trailing, there was never much danger involved. Prescott had better than average sack and interception rates while he threw the ball near a league average depth of target.
Prescott still finished 2020 21st among 44 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in Expected Points Added, a raw counting stat, despite playing only five games. Prescott had more passing EPA in 2020 than quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Daniel Jones, and Drew Lock.
During 2020, Prescott had his highest rate of pass attempts that produced positive EPA.
Dak Prescott EPA, 2016-2020
Dallas was part of an embarrassing NFC East last season, but it’s hard to imagine that would have been the case had Prescott stayed on the field. Part of the argument against getting a long-term deal done was that the surrounding offensive talent in Dallas created would allow most quarterbacks to thrive and that clearly was not the case. The dip in production was massive once the quarterback was lost for the season. Say what you want about Andy Dalton, but he previously had great results with an ideal supporting cast in Cincinnati. That did not translate to the 2020 Cowboys.
Dak Prescott On/Off Splits, 2020
|Prescott||EPA/Play||Passing EPA/Play||Positive Play %||Boom% (>1 EPA)||Bust% (<-1 EPA)|
*data provided by Sports Info Solutions
The Cowboys should feel good about getting their quarterback under contract, especially given the continued outlook of the division. The Eagles are in a tear-down, Washington doesn’t have a quarterback on the roster, and the Giants are still doubling down on the flawed roster construction of previous seasons.
Where Do We Go From Here?
What this deal shows is that quarterbacks can still have leverage if they want to bet on themselves. These two sides couldn’t come to an agreement last offseason and even a serious injury early in the season did not hinder Prescott’s leverage. Still, it’s hard to say Prescott and his team “fleeced” the Cowboys. For Dallas, this worked out quite well.
The Cowboys still got the five years of team control after the rookie deal and waiting until this offseason might have even benefitted the structure of the deal with the low cap hit in 2021. It’s likely the Cowboys would have set a low 2020 figure and needed to restructure already had the deal been done last offseason. Dallas isn’t a franchise low on cash, so fronting the $75 million in Year 1 with the ability to space out the contract hits is a win for both parties.
Obviously, the Cowboys need to supplement this contract and the short-term cap savings with a roster ready to compete all-around, but that would have been in the Dallas plans regardless of a long-term extension or a franchise tag. The Cowboys could also get aggressive by moving on from expensive contracts, like Ezekiel Elliott‘s, next offseason, which could free up more money to add to the roster.
This should also give teams optimism about the future of the cap with the Cowboys comfortable giving this type of deal out this offseason. New contracts for Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson will be next. The Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens won’t be looking at a cap-strapped environment and we’re likely to see top-of-the-market quarterback deals push the $40 million per year mark. But we could also see teams hesitate to throw the bag at quarterbacks who aren’t consistently elevating the offense around them. Prescott and the Cowboys came to an agreement, but that might be the last game of tag played with quarterbacks over the next few seasons as teams continue to figure out the landscape of quarterback contracts.