Cue the music, folks.
Although the deal is now the books for defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys got no respite regarding additional contract negotiations. In a bit of a from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire scenario, they went from working vehemently to secure their best pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware to locking horns with their three best players on offense, simultaneously. As it stands, the club is in active negotiations with quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back Ezekiel Elliott -- with the two-time rushing champ currently holding out of training camp to push talks on his extension forward.
For Prescott, whom the team is prepared to make the highest-paid player in franchise history only months after granting the honor to Lawrence, things are a bit more complicated than dialogue with the others. Because his looming extension will be the largest, it requires that much more conversation from both sides of the table, and Prescott is also in no rush to get his deal done.
The longer he waits, the more he'll get paid, because that's how market value tends to work.
To that point, carrot-chasing the average annual salary mark is mostly moot unless it's contextually linked to length of extension and guaranteed money, so reports that the Carson Wentz in June and the one given to Russell Wilson in April.that doesn't provide the additional details fail to paint the complete picture. Assuming that is true, along with the rumored $40 million counteroffer from Prescott, the magic number should and does realistically rest between $32 million and $35 million annually -- the green zone between the deal awarded to
Don't bet on Prescott surpassing Wilson by $5 million per year, if at all, unless you enjoy losing your own money. That report has also now been disputed, which furthers my point on avoiding the proverbial carrot chase, because even leaked information is part of the negotiation process. Teams routinely time leaks and frame them in a way that applies pressure to players, knowing players will be made to look selfish if they reply via the media in combative form. The retaliation usually comes from an upset agent, who wants in on the monopolized headline grab.
Length of contract and guaranteed money on such a deal?
Nobody yet knows, and that's why all of the leaked intel can be viewed as nothing more than a "framing" by one side or both. Lawrence experienced this same thing in April, but the nature of recency bias might make the Lawrence talks feel like they were years ago when, in fact, things were exceedingly contentious between the veteran pass rusher and the Cowboys only four short months ago. It took Lawrence being subject two franchise tags -- the second he refused to sign -- and having to weaponize a torn labrum in order to force the hand of the front office into finally caving.
The situation with Prescott is still currently positive on both sides, but never forget how unforgiving the process can be.
To that point, team exec Stephen Jones started trying to anchor Prescott's contract request months ago. While he has continually praised Prescott, the master tactician also began the predictable move of negotiating through the media, as he's done with Lawrence and as NFL teams routinely do -- the goal being to tilt leverage in their favor via fan pressure and news headlines. That's why you'll hear Jones project Prescott as the waiting king of the financial roster throne in Dallas, but in the same breath remind you why he shouldn't be paid like Wilson.
"You're talking about two guys there — between [Aaron] Rodgers and between Russell Wilson — that have won Super Bowls and that have had success, year-in and year-out," team exec Stephen Jones told 105.3FM the Fan this offseason. "That have taken their teams to the playoffs. Both of them have been to a couple of Super Bowls. Well, at least I know Russell has been.
"Those are guys who are going to make those types of jumps, but I'm not concerned. I think that, at the end of the day, if there's any position that has to keep an eye out not only for themselves but they also have to keep an eye out on their team — in terms of how much cap space they take up — these quarterbacks are those guys. At the end of the day, they're going to make a lot of money. The bigger thing for them in terms of their career, and what they're all about is how much did they win?
"How many Super Bowl rings do they have on their fingers? Those are all huge deals and they know at some point if they take up too much cap space at the end of the day it could hurt their chances of winning."
Make no mistake about it, these are fair stances to take, but so is Prescott wanting to maximize the earnings on his second contract after being paid 10x less to do much more than Wentz -- as one example. Comparing those two reveals just how compelling Prescott's argument is, statistically speaking.
Here are their career numbers, side-by-side.
|Games played||Regular season record||Playoff record||Passing Yards||TD||INT||Accuracy (%)||YPC||Rating||4QC||GWD||Sacked|
There are admittedly more variables that go into assessing who's subjectively better -- like film, injury/absence of satellite stars, etc. -- but Prescott trumps Wentz in a statistical head-to-head, and that includes being 4-2 against the Eagles. Contrarily, Wentz is 2-3 when facing the Prescott and Co. The above numbers are quite telling in a variety of ways, and while one side of the aisle will say "if the Cowboys weren't losing so often, Prescott wouldn't need to come from behind all the time," it could also be argued that if Wentz was more successful late in the game, the Eagles would have a better win-loss record with him at the helm.
None of this is to say Wentz isn't capable of being elite, because he is, but the reality is the reality, and Wentz has been indirectly chasing Prescott since they both entered the league in 2016.
To the Cowboys' point, though, Wilson and Aaron Rodgers -- the latter owning the throne as highest-paid NFL QB prior to the former landing his 2019 payday -- both have Super Bowl appearances and the hardware to show for it, and that's why Prescott's deal will likely not eclipse what was witnessed in the Pacific Northwest. The fourth-year QB does have other things that do move the needle in a very real way for him, however. His 32-16 regular season record has only four fewer wins than Wilson's first three years in the league and five more wins than Rodgers in his first triad of seasons as a starter.
Keeping with comparisons of the first three seasons of each QB, Prescott's touchdown-to-interception ratio is directly comparable to that of Wilson, and his 67% accuracy rate surpasses both Wilson and Rodgers in that category. Wilson obviously bests all three by appearing in two Super Bowls in his first three seasons and winning one of them, and that's why Prescott won't blow past his contract numbers, but there's more than enough evidence to support him landing a deal that pays him no less than $32 million per year -- with a strong lean toward $34 million or so.
In preparation for the coming talks, Prescott fired his old agent in 2018, Jeff Guerriero of ProSource Sports, and signed with Todd France of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the mega-conglomerate widely revered as one of the top agencies in the world of sports. Some of CAA's clients currently in the NFL include Drew Brees, J.J. Watt, Philip Rivers and Rodgers. Each of those NFL stars are playing under leviathan-sized contracts with the respective teams, and the agent-switch is something the Cowboys have definitely seen before. Tony Romo once fired agent Ken Kramer and signed with CAA in 2012, and one year later inked a six-year extension with the Cowboys worth $108 million and $55 million guaranteed; and while that's still seen today as a massive contract, it bears mentioning that was six years ago.
The salary cap at the time was $120.6 million, but now sits at $188.2 million after seeing consistent increases year-over-year, with the Cowboys themselves projected to have upwards of $100 million in cap space come next offseason.
For those who believe Prescott is "worth" only $18 million per year, that's what Romo earned more than half-a-decade ago, and that's basically backup QB money in 2019. The fact players like Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo earn $25 million annually and $27.5 million annually gives strong indication that when/if Prescott does sign, the figures will be substantially higher given the time passed since their deals and how their accomplishments stack up against Prescott's. Additionally, for those who'd drink the salary cap Kool-Aid being dished out by those don't understand the concept, the Cowboys are far from a situation that would somehow cripple their roster-building plans if Prescott was paid his full value (market + roster).
They have $24.5 million in cap space at the moment, and have no big-ticket free agents they plan to use that money on. The goal of extending Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back Ezekiel Elliott ---- are the most pressing matters facing them currently, and they can afford all three plus all the fixings. Extending Cooper lessens his $13.9 million cap hit for 2019 and frees up money for the others if his coming season is restructured as part of the new deal, adding that much more space to the pot. What they don't use will roll over to 2020, and now you're beginning to understand that although the organization is selling the "team-friendly" angle and beating the drum labeled "please help us, we're poor," that's simply not accurate.
It's what they're supposed to do, to be fair, but that doesn't make it any more truthful.
Yes, there's enough money (and then some) to pay Prescott and everyone else who deserves it, especially when factoring in contract expirations of second- and third-tier players in a few months — be it organically or by front office force.
To put it plainly, in the eternal words of Jay-Z:
"Money ain't a thang."
Owner Jerry Jones agrees.
"It's never about the money," Jones outright admitted from the Cowboys' pre-draft presser. "You're going to spend the money in our system. It's about how you allocate and do you allocate any of that for an opportunity. That's just instincts there. That's just saving it for, not a rainy day, but a brilliantly sunny day that you might get a chance to do something special."
The bottom line is there is no reasonable angle to take that sees Prescott landing less than market value, just as there isn't one that sees him being paid $40 million per year. It will likely all work itself out eventually, but not before we all witness the organization position pawns as they see fit. The same could be said for Prescott's agent, because they have pieces of their own they'll move as necessary. The movement of negotiating an NFL contract morphs from a slow groove to an all-out tango when there are monstrous numbers involved, and it's all simply rinse-and-repeat when it comes to the business of football.
The Cowboys have leverage. Prescott has leverage. They want to sign him now. He will sign when he's ready. They can franchise tag him in 2020. He can sign the tag and dare them to do it again, a la Kirk Cousins, who made money hand-over-fist with the Redskins with that financial model. They can indirectly threaten to draft competition, but Prescott knows they'd have to either fail in 2019 to land a top pick or mortgage their future in a draft trade.
Ah, the dance.
For now, though, it's just two partners trying to avoid being the one who gets dipped.