The Dallas Cowboys have been doing a contractual dance with quarterback Dak Prescott for a year now, getting basically nowhere with the process. After posting the best season of his career and playing out his paltry rookie deal ($4 million for four years), Prescott has extreme leverage, sitting in is a position in which time is clearly on his side.
He won. He crushed it. And now patience is a virtue.
Jerry Jones is going to pay, and pay handsomely, with the next step being the application of the franchise tag, Kirk Cousins just a few years ago. In that situation, it took some unique and at times creative thinking to ultimately reach a conclusion, with Cousins leaving Washington for Minnesota after successive franchise tags, and to the tune of an unprecedented three-year, fully guaranteed deal with he Vikings worth nearly $30 million a year.back in November. Thus far, this has been a fairly standard young QB and billionaire owner negotiation, not much different than what Washington went through with
So I can't help but wonder, might the Cowboys and Prescott need to consider some outside-the-box thinking to finally solve their contract conundrum once and for all? Has the usual approach to figuring this out run its course? Perhaps it's time to consider an unusual framework and some new concepts to move beyond the impasse and find a compromise that both parties can live with.
It won't be easy, especially with new expected contracts for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson this offseason -- with both of those passers only three years into their pro careers -- poised to raise the bar and alter the landscape yet again. But I've got a few ideas that might end up making sense for Jerry Jones and Prescott's agents at CAA, alike. And I know of a few more people who actually negotiate football contracts for a living who thought these ideas were at the very least worth consideration.
In full disclosure, the hypothetical contract I am about to suggest is not my idea. An enterprising agent who I very much respect hashed it out himself, putting himself in the place of Prescott's representatives and applying some different concepts. The same agent came up with a pretty cool potential Cousins contract for me years ago when that was one of the pressing issues in the NFL, and while this idea is a bit outside the norm, it makes for some great fodder to consider.
The Cowboys love doing long-term deals, with the eight-year extension they got stud left tackle Tyron Smith to sign in 2014 -- with two years still left on his rookie deal -- most emblematic of that. And Jones has long championed his quarterbacks, displaying great loyalty to Tony Romo and now Prescott. He doesn't want to have to be doing new deals with his QB every 18-24 months, and with revenues about to explode in coming years through gambling and broadcast deals, there is no doubt that this owner would love to do as long a deal as possible.
So how about 10 years at $350 million, including a $125 million signing bonus and a staggering $143 million paid out in the first three years of the deal alone? Think that might get Dak's attention? And while any QB giving up that many years of his prime earning potential seems outlandish -- and might be a non-starter for some players and agents -- there are some serious trade-offs within this hypothetical proposal that at the very least would have to give Prescott pause.
Here's how it would work: Prescott gets a $125 million signing bonus, fully guaranteed, paid out in three installments over the first three years of the deal ($50M, $50M and $25M). Sure, it's a lot, but Jerry's deep into his new stadium now, flush with cash and has a franchise some project is worth $5 billion. He can swing it.
Under this proposal, which I was frantically scribbling down in the carpool line waiting to pick up my kids from school on Tuesday, Prescott's base salaries in the first five years would be: $4M, $6M, $8M, $10M, $12M. Signing bonuses can be spread out over a maximum of five years, so that $125 million counts $25 million per year against the cap over the first five years. And then, in the final five years, Prescott would have salaries of: $36M, $37M, $38M, $39M and $40M.
|Year||Cash total||Cap figure|
Let it sink in for a minute. There is a lot going on here.
Prescott comes out of the box pulling down some massive cash hauls. He would make $143 million fully guaranteed in the first three years of the deal (a whopping $47.7 million in cash per year on a three-year average). And he would make $165 million fully guaranteed over the first five years. Yes, the take-home cash in Years 4 and 5 are cheap … but he also would be walking away from a minimum of $165M in cash if he turned this offer down.
As for the final five years, the agent proposed making at least a few years, and perhaps all five of them, guaranteed for injury at the time of signing. And then there would be rolling guarantees of the salaries -- say three days into the start of the 2024 league year, Prescott's full salary for 2025 would become guaranteed for skill and cap as well (and thus fully guaranteed). And that repeats each year.
If you think a five-year average of $33M per year is too low -- considering that $33M is what Prescott would make this year on the exclusive franchise tag -- then his agents could always negotiate for a higher base salary in any given year. You could certainly add in other bonuses through this structure based on performance and, as I suggested to the agent and he concurred, there could be opt-out triggers for the player in the event that the salary cap goes absolutely bonkers in the futures based on soaring league revenues.
If at any point in the final five years of the deal, say, Prescott's take-home pay in one year was not worth a certain percentage of the cap, then maybe he can opt out, or a higher base salary would kick in that corresponds to that agreed upon percentage of the overall cap. Yeah, it's not your standard approach to this, but, again, I like it. There is so much uncertainty about just how much the business of football will grow via a gambling explosion, the new TV deals and perhaps moving a franchise to London or being able to make more in international TV rights. It can be a challenging climate to make such a long-term commitment, but there are ways to provide a buffer and cushion for both sides.
Prescott would essentially be signing away his entire career -- but for at least $165M and, most likely, much much more. He could establish a new threshold with five guaranteed seasons. And the Cowboys would have a finite and very manageable cost and cap situation with their franchise QB.
As the man who concocted this idea put it: "Ten years is a long, long time, but how many people can just walk away from $165M?"
Maybe Prescott could and would, as he always displayed great moxie and self-belief by turning down $30M per year on a long-term deal last summer, only to play out his rookie pittance. Who knows. But it's certainly worth pondering.
If I was representing him, I think I'd have to advise him to sign it. You can always renegotiate down the road. I see ample give-and-take here in this template. Many either side might want some numbers to go up or some payments to go down some, but this doesn't strike me as the craziest idea in the world at all. Not even close. It's a novel attempt at problem solving, and I can't help but wonder if at some point we see a structure like this in some huge contract. If not Prescott, then someone else.