Dak Prescott has presumably been playing himself into a huge payday with his strong season in 2019, the last season on his rookie contract. The Dallas Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East with a 5-3 record, and Prescott’s performance this season has played a big role in the team’s success. But despite the apparent reasons that the Cowboys have to lock their franchise quarterback up long-term, they still haven’t made any serious strides towards doing so.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Prescott could be heading towards a franchise tag. This move would give Dak Prescott a raise to over $33 million in 2020 and would set him up to make over $40 million if tagged against before the 2021 season. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys front office are making this more complicated than it ought to be.
Dak Prescott is a top-eight quarterback by virtually all measures
Dak Prescott reportedly turned down a $30 million per year contract extension offer this offseason, with that report stating that his camp was seeking $40 million per year. That $40 million asking price has since been disputed, but the fact remains that Prescott decided not to sign an extension before the season started and instead opted to try to prove that he was worth more on the field.
And through the first eight games of 2019, he has. Prescott ranks among the top eight quarterbacks in the NFL in every notable category:
Adjusted Quarterback Rating: 77.6, 2nd in the NFL
Average Yards Per Attempt: 8.7, 3rd in the NFL
Completion Percentage: 69.6%, 5th in the NFL
Passing Yards Per Game: 297.5, 5th in the NFL
Touchdown Passes: 15, 7th in the NFL
Passer Rating: 102.5, 8th in the NFL
This season isn’t a massive outlier, either. Prescott had three productive seasons in the NFL before this one, too.
Free agent quarterbacks get paid market value
Jared Goff signed a 4-year, $134 million extension this offseason that will pay him $33.5 million per year. This contract was signed despite the fact that Goff still had two years remaining on his contract and had shown serious signs of decline in 2018.
Carson Wentz was signed to a 4-year, $128 million extension this offseason that will pay him $32 million a year. Wentz received this massive new deal after seeing each of his last two seasons end with serious injuries.
Dak Prescott has been far more durable than Carson Wentz and far more consistent than Jared Goff through his first three and a half years in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles had more justifiable reasons than the Cowboys did to play hardball with their respective franchise quarterbacks, but they didn’t. Because they understand that even capable quarterback play is hard to find, and guys with top-ten potential can’t be let go regardless of their flaws. So they paid Goff and Wentz the value that the current market dictated.
The final number should settle in the mid 30s
Some people frame the argument of whether or not Dak Prescott is worth top dollar around how his new salary would rank compared to other elite quarterbacks around the league. But that doesn’t tell the whole story; the salary cap has been going up every year, and with that change, average salaries are going up at the same rate.
What Matthew Stafford received in 2017 or what Matt Ryan received in 2018 is irrelevant to the free agents of 2019, who are working in a new economy with more money. Only current contracts can really be used as comparables.
Russell Wilson is the league’s highest-paid quarterback at $35 million per year on a deal he signed this offseason. Prescott is not better than Wilson, but he is better than Jared Goff. The sweet spot this offseason would have been around $34 million per year, instead of the $30 million the Cowboys were reportedly offering.
But now we are hurtling towards the 2020 season, where Dak Prescott will likely command at least $35 million against a higher salary cap. And he’ll be worth that number in relation to the new cap. If the Cowboys kick the can down the road with a franchise tag, it’s only going to cost them even more to keep him in another year from now.