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USATSI

Try as they might, the Dallas Cowboys again failed to get a deal done with Dak Prescott in 2020. It's the second attempt in as many offseasons that's failed to bear fruit, this time the two sides coming as close as they've ever been before the bell finally tolled during last-second talks on July 15. And with that, Prescott will play the 2020 season under a franchise tag that will pay him $31.4 million, and a third attempt to secure a long-term deal will get underway in 2021 -- or the Cowboys will likely find themselves paying $37.7 million on a second tag. Time will tell how it all shakes out, but Emmitt Smith is unequivocal in his stance on the matter.

Smith told the Cowboys earlier this offseason they "can't play chicken" with Prescott, and has yet another warning for them as they ready for their Sept. 13 opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Never one to bite his tongue, Smith says the fate of the entire locker room is at stake when it comes to contract negotiations with Prescott. 

"If you try to mess with Dak Prescott, trying to mess with him mentally, try to mess with him from a financial standpoint -- you're going to effect the whole chemistry of that entire team," Smith said on a recent episode of Tiki and Tierney, CBS Sports Radio/CBS Sports Network. "That's one of the things I've seen many coaches, organizations, and owners do too often and just destroy the chemistry of a ball-club. I've seen it happen and I don't think they need to do that with Dak."

Smith once drew the ire of some fans who felt he undervalued Prescott during the Ezekiel Elliott holdout in 2019, attributing much of the Cowboys offensive success to the prowess of the run game. He's since made it clear several times over his belief in Prescott is unwavering, in that he views the two-time Pro Bowler as the franchise quarterback of both now and the foreseeable future. 

"I do think Dak is the guy going forward," said Smith. "There's no question in my mind about that. Dak Prescott is in control of that offensive unit, is in command of that offense, and he has earned the respect as the leader of that team. The way he plays the game translates in that."

Prescott, who believes he will "be a Cowboy for the rest of his career," is once in again in prime position to increase his value on the open market -- something the Cowboys are desperately trying to keep him from reaching. He logged a career-best season in 2019 under first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and the addition of Mike McCarthy as head coach, another receiving weapon in rookie first-round pick CeeDee Lamb and the promotion of playmaking tight end Blake Jarwin to starter sets him up for even more dominance in 2020

If all goes to plan, and the team's receivers don't again lead the league in drops, Prescott could set a franchise record in single season passing yards -- after just narrowly missing doing so last season -- en route to setting a much bigger franchise record: namely, highest-paid player in Cowboys history.

That is, of course, if they take Smith's advice.