2020 Cowboys contract talks: Length of deal remains holdup on Dak Prescott, team renews offer to Amari Cooper

The witching hour rapidly approacheth for the Dallas Cowboys. The club is going full bore at signing Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to an extension before the NFL tag deadline of March 12, with the hopes of landing at least one and hitting the other with a tag to buy themselves until mid-July to sort things out. Talks have begun to heat up for all involved but are still complicated by the latest collective bargaining agreement looming overhead -- teams remain unclear on if it'll pass and change the negotiation landscape or if it'll be denied by players in the final hours and keep things as they are. 

If it is ratified, the Cowboys will lose the ability to utilize both the franchise and transition tag in 2020, but see an added bump to their already cash-rich salary cap position that would help them need only one tag to begin with. Interesting times indeed, with so many moving pieces conflicting with one another, but the Cowboys aren't sitting on their hands. With the NFLPA now officially pushing back the CBA vote from March 12 to March 14 at 11:59pm ET, the Cowboys now have an additional two days of being able to utilize both tags before potentially having to rescind one -- giving them that extra time to possibly land deals on both Prescott and Cooper. 

A source confirmed to CBS Sports they've now met multiple times with the agents for the two cornerstone players, and have extended renewed offers to both. Details on what Cooper was offered are still much too fractured to report, but a separate source tells CBS Sports the latest offer to Prescott "isn't exactly" at the $33 million annum mark, instead being "slightly higher" with a nudge toward $34 million annually.

Here's why that's mostly unimportant, though.

In early February, I reported Prescott was looking for a shorter deal that would allow him to negotiate a new contract under the new CBA in the near future, but the Cowboys wanted to run long and not revisit this topic anytime soon. That is still very much the case as we stand in mid-March, with both sides working to meet some sort of middle ground on that point. Prescott isn't afraid to scale down to a four-year deal or even one that taps out at three years, but the Cowboys are equally bullish in their stance -- seeking one closer to five years or longer (think upwards of seven-ish). 

The longer the deal, the lower the AAS (average annual salary) will be. The shorter it runs, the higher the AAS will be. To that point, a source has long confirmed to CBS Sports that the Cowboys offer to Prescott in September 2019 was also just above $33 million per year, so why would a renewed offer months later -- after a career-best season and more influential QB market -- mirror it? 

It's because length and guarantees are more important than AAS, and those two variables are being altered with every sit-down.

An example would be a $200 million max value extension, with 10 years at $20 million AAS versus four years at $50 million. As you can see from those two extremes, length can either shrink dollars or stretch them, but this is also a battle of guaranteed money versus promised money. You see, the latter doesn't actually exist unless Prescott is allowed by the Cowboys to play out his new deal -- without restructuring later on -- to its finality. Otherwise, like so many other NFL players have discovered, he'd lose out on gobs of promised money if released early and he'd then walk away with only what he was guaranteed.

This is why he wants more guaranteed if he's going to agree to a longer-term deal predicated mostly upon promised money he may never receive. It's the game within the game, and the Cowboys are no strangers to playing it, but neither is Prescott's agent -- Todd France. 

To be more succinct here, while NFL fans all stare at the bright lights of "max value" on contracts, that number is mostly irrelevant and used only for show and as a means of pacifying players. The real, tangible funds are guaranteed, so the more, the merrier. 

And with that, I'm told the Cowboys are willing to "flex" around the $105 million mark in guaranteed money for Prescott, open to pushing the number higher to around $110 million or more if they can get Prescott to agree to a longer deal, or down to a less attractive number if an abbreviated deal's length is on the fringes of their comfort zone.

The push-and-pull will eventually see compromises made on both sides.

Prescott is willing to accept a longer deal if he's granted concessions that would soften the blow of being unable to renegotiate as early as 2022 or 2023, such as more guaranteed money overall and a higher amount of it paid out upfront. That's a gambit the team isn't averse to, I'm told, and it's still expected a deal will be agreed to at some point this offseason. Obviously, for the Cowboys, the sooner the better -- particularly considering Prescott isn't expected to show up to any offseason programs if he's the one who gets hit with the tag.

As for Cooper, it's a foregone conclusion he's seeking top wide receiver money, and his final number could tap dance around the $19 million per year mark, a source tells CBS Sports. The four-time Pro Bowler has repeatedly made it clear he wants to remain with the Cowboys going forward, and they've never broken rank in reciprocating his love. While it's not as guaranteed he'll be in Dallas this coming season as it is Prescott, the chances of him not are still low when considering how motivated both sides are to get a deal done. 

That will become a bit more difficult if the Cowboys are forced to tag Prescott and negotiate with Cooper on the open market, but that would mean they were robbed of the added tag by the new CBA which then means, you guessed it, they'd have a bump in salary cap space to help them throw more money at Cooper. The team has a projected cap space near $80 million, per Over the Cap, and the ability to push it to $100 million in space before any CBA bump is granted. By now, mathematically speaking, you're getting the picture. 

The bottom line is the Cowboys can afford to set the market on both Prescott and Cooper if they want, and unlike their feelings toward doing so on Jones, they're willing to bite bullets on their franchise QB and No. 1 WR, but they'd also prefer both of those bullets be composed of rubber -- as opposed to Vibranium.

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