Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is due for a new contract. Should they sacrifice other parts of the team to go all-in on him?
Since being drafted in 2016, Dak Prescott has been one of the most grossly underpaid players in the NFL. The 2016 fourth-round pick has led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs two out of his first three seasons. In his rookie season, he claimed the number one seed in the NFC. This past year, he led the team to its first playoff win since 2014. He has done this all while making an average salary of $680,000.
That is about to change. With one more year on his contract, both he and the Cowboys are anxious to reach a new deal.
Prescott has everything that you want to see from the quarterback of America’s team. He’s low maintenance, hard-working, and most importantly, a stable presence. Jerry’s World is a circus, and it can consume players. It takes a particular type of guy to be able to block out all of the noise and play football.
Prescott has the intangibles to succeed
From the looming presence of Tony Romo in his rookie season, to the Ezekiel Elliott suspension in 2017, and then to this past season when he was constantly confronted with questions about his future in Dallas, Prescott has been faced with many distractions in his young career and has not once let them get the best of him. While his limited skill set makes him one of the least talented starting quarterbacks in the NFL, his intangibles are a redeeming quality that could lead a team to a championship.
There are only a handful of guys that you can say that about, and that makes Dak a precious commodity. The NFL has proven time and time again that champions are not determined solely by the teams with the most talented quarterbacks. If that were the case, Dan Marino would be as decorated as Tom Brady, the Green Bay Packers would have won well more than just two Super Bowls between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and Trent Dilfer wouldn’t have even come close to winning a ring.
To win a championship, teams need a balanced roster with great coaching. However, above anything else, they need a guy under center who can lead men and knows how to win. Dak Prescott is a winner.
Can Prescott do it alone?
The problem with Dak, however, is that he also needs much talent around him. He is 18-4 throughout his career in games where he has a running back rush for over 100 yards, but he is 15-14 in games where his back fails to do so. The two years that he has made the playoffs (2016 and 2018), Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing. But in 2017 when he missed six games with a suspension and only ranked number 10 on the rushing list, the team failed to reach .500 without him.
Prescott also needs tremendous help in the passing game. Throughout his first three seasons, he has never once hit the 4,000-yard passing mark, which is an elementary benchmark in the modern NFL. He threw for over 300 yards only twice this past season – once in a meaningless week 17 game against the New York Giants. Throughout his career, he has only reached the 300-yard mark six times. While passing yards is by no means the gold standard of quarterback evaluation, it is very alarming how much Prescott has struggled to push the ball down the field. The Cowboys added Amari Cooper this past season. But, would they look at someone like tight end Aize Mack in this year’s draft to help Prescott? If so, they would then have a WR, TE, and RB for Prescott to lean on.
But, when you look at last year, you’ll see that the Cowboys became dangerous when they finally discovered who they were. Their identity is a defensive football team who dominates the time of possession while relying on Zeke. Prescott played very self-aware football in the second half of the season, and that made him extremely dangerous. They were an excellent football team and have proven that at their best they could compete with any team in the league. However, that recipe will not work going forward if they agree to pay Dak big time money.
A new contract is coming, but how much money is too much?
The expectation of signing a quarterback to a contract worth $25-30 million a year is that they won’t need any crutches because the team cannot afford to surround him with talent. Giving Prescott this kind of money would likely force the team to dismantle its world-class offensive line and let vital defensive players like Demarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee and Jeff Heath walk in free agency over the next two years. The team will, however, have to do some of this to an extent no matter what because they are no longer going to be able to get away with paying their starting quarterback less than $1 million a year.
Few quarterbacks have had as much success as Dak has had since he came into the league. Naturally, he should be rewarded for that. However, the Cowboys should look to sign him to a deal closer to that of Cam Newton and Philip Rivers, around $20 million a year, rather than the deals of Matthew Stafford or Aaron Rodgers, at $27-33 million a year.
Compared to some of the other quarterback deals that have been made over the last few seasons, there indeed is an argument that Dak should be paid like a top tier quarterback. In the summer of 2017, the Oakland Raiders made Derek Carr the highest paid player in the NFL at the time, signing him to a five year $125 million contract after just three years in the league. The numbers for Carr in his first three years are very similar to those of Prescott. Yet, Prescott has more playoff appearances and wins than Carr.
Jimmy Garoppolo was re-signed to a five year $137 million contract by the 49ers before the 2018 season. This is despite never having started a full season in the league. And then, of course, there are other contracts like that of Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford. These two are among the highest paid players in the league but routinely struggle to win.
Cowboys need to play this right if they want sustained success
Compared to all of those guys, Dak has a bona fide argument for wanting an elite contract. However, the deals of those mentioned above speak less to Prescott’s case and more to the idiocy of those organizations. Every single one of those teams is now trapped for the next four to five years. With marginal quarterback talents and limited cap space, they may struggle to win. The Cowboys do not want to follow suit and cave into Prescott’s demands.
The Cowboys organization needs to hold their ground in negotiations with Prescott. They have one of the best rosters in the NFL filled with tons of young talent. If they play their cards right, they can be contenders for years to come. If Dak refuses to lower his asking price then the solution for the organization is simple; allow Dak to play out the final year on his rookie deal and then let him walk. Surely there will be a team desperate enough to overpay for Prescott in 2020, just not the Cowboys.
In that circumstance, the team should look to find Prescott’s heir apparent in the 2019 draft. Perhaps they strike gold in one of the middle rounds like they did with Dak in 2016. If so, they may find a guy who can be their 2020 starter. If not, they can always look to free agency to sign a guy like Jacoby Brissett or Case Keenum. Those quarterbacks can help bridge the gap before they find their franchise guy.
Prescott deserves to be paid handsomely, just not the ridiculous amount that teams are paying some quarterbacks nowadays. Prescott may decide that money is more important than the opportunity to play for a contender for the next decade. If that’s the case, the Cowboys need to be secure enough to be able to move in a new direction.