Agent's Take: Dak Prescott's contract leverage and what it means for a potential new Cowboys deal
Leverage is a powerful tool when there's a willingness to exploit it
The Cowboys had an active preseason in extending the contracts of right tackle La'el Collins, running back Ezekiel Elliott and linebacker Jaylon Smith. Quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are on Dallas' contract to-do list. Both players are in a contract year.
Prescott, who is making $2.025 million this season, is the top signing priority. After making just over $2 million from his playing contract during his three NFL seasons as Cowboys starting quarterback, the 2016 fourth-round pick is arguably the NFL's biggest bargain.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones characterized a new deal as imminent after Sunday's season-opening 35-17 win over the Giants in which Prescott played the best game of his career. Prescott completed 25 of 32 passes for 405 yards with four touchdowns. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Prescott won NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
A $30 million per year offer by the Cowboys has been rejected. There has been conflicting information on what Prescott wants. A $40 million per year contract demand that surfaced during the preseason contradicted previous reports in June of Prescott seeking a new deal in the $34 million per year neighborhood.
A quarterback market that has undergone several changes since the offseason began became more defined with fellow 2016 draftee Jared Goff signing a four-year, $134 million contract extension containing an NFL record $110,042,682 of guarantees with the Rams last week. $57,042,682 of the 2016 first-overall pick's deal was fully guaranteed at signing.
Prescott may not have the same sense of urgency as Jones, although the quarterback market is well defined since he possesses a lot of leverage in negotiations. Leverage is a powerful tool when there is a willingness to fully exploit it.
Contrary to popular belief, Prescott's outstanding performance versus the Giants didn't materially increase his leverage any more than Goff's horrendous play in Super Bowl LIII, when the most was at stake, kept him from getting top quarterback money. Prescott consistently demonstrating he can be the driving force behind Dallas' offense rather than Elliott -- who Cowboys chief operating officer and executive vice president Stephen Jones has called the straw that stirs the drink -- would be the true game changer.
The scarcity of quality quarterbacks has always been a passer's best friend. It's how a largely unproven Jimmy Garoppolo briefly became the NFL's highest player at $27.5 million per year early last offseason after only five impressive starts following a midseason trade from the Patriots to the 49ers, which raised the number of games he started in his career at that time to seven. The jury is still out on Garoppolo. He didn't perform at the same level in the three games he played in 2018 before suffering a season ending knee injury.
Typically, a player whose career earnings from his playing contract are minimal by NFL standards is willing to accept a deal that isn't quite what is being sought because the risk of playing out his contract is greater than the reward. Prescott may the exception to this general proposition, where he can afford to exercise some patience. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Prescott has endorsement deals valued at more than $50 million and purchased loss of value and disability insurance policies to protect against an injury this season.
The elder Jones hasn't done Dallas any favors with his gratuitous comments about Prescott. Inexplicably, Jones proclaimed prior to a mid-November game against the Falcons last season that he wouldn't consider trading Prescott for two first round picks even if the top spot in the 2019 NFL draft was included.
Comments like this are music to an agent's ears. I used to love to it when teams made statements about clients, like the one Jones made, while I was an agent. I kept a file with extremely favorable comments to use at contract time. It was my equivalent of an unwritten or unspoken Miranda rule. As far as I was concerned, teams had the right to remain silent. Anything overly positive said would be used against them in negotiations.
CAA Sports' Todd France, who is Prescott's agent, has most certainly used Jones' statement against the Cowboys when discussing Prescott's new contract. France has developed a reputation for driving a hard bargain in negotiations. He is the co-agent of Rams defensive interior lineman Aaron Donald, who became the NFL's first $20 million per year non-quarterback last preseason.
Prescott has also been pretty adamant about not following Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's lead. Brady started consistently undercutting the market rather than setting it in 2013 when he first renegotiated the 2010 extension which made him the NFL's highest paid player.
QB market summary
The Cowboys need to accept that Goff's new deal is the latest financial measuring stick for quarterbacks where offers made to Prescott are adjusted accordingly. The chart below summarizes the top five for quarterbacks in average yearly salary, total guarantees and amount fully guaranteed at signing.
|Average salary/length||Contract guarantees||Fully guaranteed|
$35M/4-year extension (Russell Wilson)
$34M/2-year extension (Ben Roethlisberger)
$84M (Kirk Cousins)
$33.5M/4-year extension (Aaron Rodgers)
$33.5M/4-year extension (Jared Goff)
$100M (Matt Ryan)
$32M/4-year extension (Carson Wentz)
Average: $33,555,556/3.6 years
Most of the deals comprising the top five by average yearly salary have performance bonuses. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' extension is worth a maximum of $138 million through salary escalators and incentives. The maximum value of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's deal is $146 million because of salary escalators. Wentz's contract with the Eagles is worth up to $144 million through salary escalators. Goff can make as much as $147.95 million under his extension thanks to his incentives and salary escalators.
The Cowboys are accustomed to doing lucrative extensions where players sign for at least new five years. Prescott is probably pushing for a three or four year extension, so at the latest he would have an expiring contract as a 30 year old. Since the deals Goff, Wentz and Wilson signed this offseason are four year extensions, the Cowboys insisting on more new years with Prescott will likely be deal-breaker for France.
The franchise tag game
The longer negotiations drag on provided Prescott continues to play well, the franchise tag game will start becoming the most appealing option to France at some point this season.
The 2020 non-exclusive quarterback number should be in the $27 million neighborhood if the salary cap is in the $200 million neighborhood next offseason. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a CBA mandated 20 percent increase over the 2020 franchise number would be over $32 million.
Quarterbacks usually get the exclusive version, which would be a certainty if Prescott's Week 1 performance is a preview of things to come. The exclusive version would prohibit Prescott from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams. The calculation is also different from the non-exclusive version. An exclusive designation for Prescott would be the average of the top five 2020 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) when the restricted free agent signing period ends next April 17. This number currently projects to $32.221 million. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a 20 percent increase over Prescott's 2020 franchise number would be $38,665,200.
If the franchise tag game starts being played, there won't be much incentive for Prescott to sign before there's a resolution with 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who is eligible to sign an extension with the Chiefs once the regular season ends. Mahomes is potentially the NFL's first $40 million per year player. Doing Prescott after a Mahomes contract is in the market place will probably force the Cowboys to beat Wilson's deal by a considerable margin.
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