The staredown between the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott ended in futility for the former, with no deal on a longterm extension having been struck before the July 15 deadline. That means the latter is guaranteed a $31.4 million salary in 2020 by virtue of signing his franchise tag in late June, and will get another shot at boosting his value before sitting back down with team brass to try to reach a deal -- for the third time in as many years. The first was when the Cowboys attempted to sign Prescott to an extension ahead in 2019, but the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback opted to bet on himself instead -- going on to deliver a career-best season from an individual standpoint (and despite his wide receivers having the highest drop rate in the league).
Fast forward to July and things were deathly quiet in the days and moments approaching the NFL deadline but, despite reports to the contrary, a separate source told CBS Sports the Cowboys did reach out in the witching hour; but simply didn't have enough time to tweak details of their offer and finalize contract language before the 3 p.m. deadline. Stephen Jones, the club's Executive Vice President and Director of Player Personnel, confirmed this report in an interview on Thursday.
"We had a great visit with him at the deadline," Jones said, via the team's website. "We pushed to try to have a few more changes here and there to see if we could get it done."
Spoiler alert: They could not.
Prescott will now enter the fifth year of his NFL career looking for yet another level up in his game, and with a lot working in his favor to do just that. Kellen Moore proved himself a talented offensive coordinator in Year 1, having flipped the Cowboys offense from one of the statistical worst in the league to the literal best, often sitting atop the pile in total yards per game and landing at third-best in overall passing yardage. He'll now tandem with Mike McCarthy, a known QB whisperer, and the decision to move on from Jason Witten and combines with the addition of rookie first-round pick CeeDee Lamb to .
If all goes to plan, Prescott could easily surpass a 2019 season that saw him fall just two yards shy of overtaking Tony Romo's single-season passing record (4,903), and again make the Cowboys contenders in the process -- assuming the. What that means for negotiations in 2021 is simple and something Jones isn't naive to, namely a bigger price tag on the team's franchise quarterback.
"[Prescott has] got such a great outlook on the Dallas Cowboys, our football team, and he's ready to go out and win a Super Bowl, which would only create more value for him -- more value for the Cowboys," Jones said.
The biggest hiccup in the plan to sign Prescott to an extension was length of the deal, as CBS Sports first reported in early February, with the Cowboys eventually standing firm on five years while Prescott dug his heels in at four. , hence wanting him for a longer period of time and not a shorter one, but the newly-turned 27-year-old wants an opportunity to negotiate another contract sooner than later under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement and in a landscape that could see a salary cap infused with revenue from both gambling and renewed TV contracts.
There's of course a hiccup in Prescott's plan as well, however, and it's name is COVID-19. The pandemic has the league facing a possible cap of just $175 million in 2021, with a larger potential revenue hit being spread over the next several seasons. It's that unknown that might make it difficult for Prescott to double-dip, but it applies the squeeze in both directions, because the Cowboys now have that much more pressure to avoid franchise tagging Prescott a second time to the tune of a $37.69 million cap hit.
But when it's all said and done, Jones believes a deal will be agreed to.
"We're fired up about [the coming season] and still have nothing but 100 percent belief in Dak and his future with the Cowboys, and that we can ultimately get a deal done," said the younger Jones, whom a source tells CBS Sports was the primary driver of the contract talks with Prescott. "He's special. As Jerry and I have said, we are 110 percent behind him, and ultimately feel like we'll get this done."
A deal was close with Prescott, in the realm of five [years] being close to four and money no longer being the biggest sticking point, but nothing was imminent -- until it nearly was at the deadline. Jones doesn't want to play the "ooh, so close" game, though.
"I don't want to use 'close' in terms of negotiations," he said. "You either get a deal done or you don't. We didn't quite get it done. I wouldn't put blame on either side.
"It's just one of those things, when you're talking about a deal as big as this is -- for our team, not just for Dak but our entire team, the ramifications that it has -- we certainly want to get it done right. I know he's respectful of Jerry and myself of what we're trying to get accomplished, just as we are with him."
In the end, the Cowboys didn't bend on their want of a five-year agreement, even as they attempted to hash things out with Prescott in the final moments ahead of the deadline. As they hit pause on it all and look to revisit talks next offseason, time will tell if they finally bend to avoid an even bigger cap hit on a potentially smaller cap allowance, or if Prescott will feel less willing to gamble on a financial landscape dented by the lingering impact(s) of COVID-19.
"They certainly want a shorter deal," Jones said of Prescott and his agent, Todd France. "Historically we have, as management, wanted longer deals because it's more cap friendly and we're able to spread some things out and keep some players. At the end of the day, and Dak understands this, that's what we're trying to do."
Prescott still wants to remain in Dallas, sources confirm, and the Cowboys want him to stay put. A bit of time should heal the scrapes from the latest round of talks having fallen short, and it's a good sign for all that both are still on the same page regarding the outlook of the relationship. That said, as both sides have now learned two times over, it takes two to tango, and someone has to get dipped before the music stops.
If not, both will eventually be forced to find new dance partners.