Year on $31.4M tag wouldn’t faze Dak

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Jori Ep­stein

DALLAS – Kirk Cousins said the con­ver­sa­tion oc­curred in Novem­ber, when the Vik­ings came to AT&T Sta­dium to play the Cow­boys. Dallas quar­ter­back Dak Prescott was half­way through the fi­nal year of his rookie con­tract.

Cousins of­fered Prescott busi­ness ad­vice.

“My mes­sage to Dak when I saw him mid­sea­son last year was, ‘Hey, what­ever hap­pens, don’t be afraid of the tag,’ ” Cousins told ESPN in May.

Pend­ing sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ments by Wed­nes­day’s 4 p.m. ET dead­line, Prescott is headed down that path.

The Cow­boys and Prescott have un­til then to ne­go­ti­ate a long-term deal. Oth­er­wise, Prescott is sched­uled to play the 2020 sea­son on an ex­clu­sive tag worth $31.4 mil­lion and can’t rekin­dle ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til next year.

It’s a re­al­ity Prescott has con­sid­ered since at least Jan­uary, but an un­usual one none­the­less.

Since 1993 – the year Prescott was born – eight quar­ter­backs have been des­ig­nated a fran­chise player. Only two have played un­der the tag.

Nei­ther Drew Brees (tagged by the Charg­ers in 2005) nor Cousins (by Wash­ing­ton in both 2016 and 2017) wound up sign­ing mul­ti­year con­tracts with the teams that drafted them, both even­tu­ally mov­ing else­where.

The Cow­boys and Prescott haven’t pub­licly wa­vered about their interest in a long-term re­la­tion­ship. Team owner Jerry Jones has re­peat­edly voiced his be­lief that Prescott is the fran­chise’s fu­ture, even equat­ing him to a fam­ily mem­ber he wouldn’t move for­ward with­out.

“Ab­so­lutely not” would Prescott walk this sea­son, vice pres­i­dent Stephen Jones said in Fe­bru­ary.

But talks have been few and far be­tween since.

How we got here

The Cow­boys and Prescott’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion failed to reach a deal by the be­gin­ning of the 2019 sea­son, ul­ti­mately tabling ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til the win­ter. They met in In­di­anapo­lis at the scout­ing com­bine in Fe­bru­ary be­fore an­other stall in the spring.

The Cow­boys des­ig­nated Prescott as an ex­clu­sive fran­chise-tag player March 16, en­sur­ing they main­tained his rights for the sea­son. But the two sides have yet to set­tle stick­ing points, in­clud­ing length of con­tract, guar­an­tees and struc­ture. Prescott wants no more than four years on his deal. The Cow­boys want to lock him down for at least five, in­creas­ing their cap flex­i­bil­ity.

The two sides have not dis­cussed a pact in re­cent months, a per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tions con­firmed to USA TODAY Sports on Mon­day night. The per­son spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity due to the sensitivit­y of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Prescott signed his fran­chise ten­derJune 22. The move guar­an­teed two fac­tors: that Prescott didn’t in­tend to with­hold his services with­out a long-term deal, and that the Cow­boys no longer had the abil­ity to re­scind the of­fer he’d left un­signed for more than three months. If the NFL plays a full sea­son, Prescott’s $31.4 mil­lion salary is guar­an­teed.

Ad­di­tion­ally, per rules out­lined in the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, tag­ging Prescott again in 2021 would boost his salary an­other 20%. Thus, even if the cap lies stag­nant or drops due to rev­enue loss from COVID-19 re­stric­tions, Prescott would be due $37.7 mil­lion on a sec­ond tag next year.

It’s a high-re­ward fi­nan­cial risk that, like when he played 2019 on the fi­nal year of his deal – for roughly $2 mil­lion – Prescott and his rep­re­sen­ta­tion are will­ing to take.

The fourth-rounder prece­dent

Af­ter rolling the dice those two years in Wash­ing­ton, Cousins signed a three­year deal with the Vik­ings in 2018 that in­cluded a fully guar­an­teed $84 mil­lion, un­prece­dented at the time. He signed a two-year, $66 mil­lion ex­ten­sion in March.

De­spite not win­ning an NFL start­ing job un­til his fourth sea­son – the sea­son im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing his ini­tial fran­chise tag in 2016 – Cousins has cashed in dur­ing the eight years since he was se­lected in the fourth round, 102nd over­all, of the 2012 draft.

Seven quar­ter­backs were drafted ear­lier than Cousins that year, from the Colts’ An­drew Luck to Wash­ing­ton’s Robert Grif­fin III – the No. 2 pick whom Cousins even­tu­ally beat out – to the Ti­tans’ Ryan Tan­nehill (drafted by Mi­ami in 2012), on to Seat­tle’s Rus­sell Wilson and Su­per Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles.

Cousins’ ca­reer earn­ings, in­clud­ing the $40 mil­lion in cash he’s set to be paid in 2020, to­tal $140.5 mil­lion en­ter­ing

his ninth sea­son.

Wilson’s $162.3 mil­lion ca­reer earn­ings mark the only fig­ure big­ger than Cousins’ among the seven passers drafted ear­lier.

Prescott could follow suit.

The Cow­boys se­lected him in the fourth round, 135th over­all, in 2016. Like Cousins, seven quar­ter­backs had al­ready left the board. Prescott is set to make more on the field through 2020 than all but first-rounders Jared Goff and Car­son Wentz. Each signed ex­ten­sions last off­sea­son. But Prescott’s po­ten­tial $37.7 mil­lion tag in 2021 would trump the av­er­age an­nual salaries the deals Wentz ($32 mil­lion an­nu­ally) and Goff ($33.5 mil­lion) av­er­age.

A wind­fall could await.

And Prescott en­ters the tag game bet­ter po­si­tioned to earn big than did Cousins, who owned 25 reg­u­lar-sea­son starts and zero play­off wins at the time of his ini­tial tag.

By com­par­i­son, Prescott has started all 64 reg­u­lar-sea­son games since he ar­rived in Dallas as well as three play­off games, win­ning one. He’s posted 40 wins in the four sea­sons, throw­ing for 15,778 yards, 97 touch­downs and 36 in­ter­cep­tions. Prescott’s also rushed for 21 scores.

He’s also been named to the Pro Bowl twice, match­ing Cousins’ to­tal.

Prescott’s re­sume doesn’t match that of 2018 league MVP and Su­per Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Ma­homes, who could make in ex­cess of a half-bil­lion dol­lars af­ter a 10-year ex­ten­sion worth up to $450 mil­lion was tacked onto the fi­nal two years of his rookie deal with the Chiefs.

Still, the Cow­boys have re­peat­edly said they plan to keep Prescott, who also has brought lead­er­ship and other in­tan­gi­bles to ar­guably the league’s most high-pro­file job, for the long haul.

What’s next?

New Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy said at the com­bine in Fe­bru­ary that he be­lieves Prescott is ca­pa­ble of win­ning a Su­per Bowl. The Cow­boys said when they hired McCarthy in Jan­uary that they want to cap­i­tal­ize on what they be­lieve is a play­off-cal­iber ros­ter.

And it’s still pos­si­ble that Prescott could be the lat­est in a se­ries of Jerry Jones’ dead­line-driven deals.

Star re­ceiver Dez Bryant signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion ex­ten­sion on July 15, 2015, just hours be­fore the ne­go­ti­at­ing window closed. Twice-tagged de­fen­sive end DeMar­cus Lawrence re­ceived his five-year, $105 mil­lion deal last April.

Ei­ther way, Prescott sig­naled when he signed the tag that he’ll ar­rive for train­ing camp when the league deems it safe.

But will he be gam­bling on him­self for the sec­ond straight year with no se­cu­rity be­yond this sea­son?

If so, Cousins’ ad­vice will follow Prescott.

“It can be your friend,” Cousins said he told Prescott of the tag. “And you can use it to your ad­van­tage.”

KYLE TERADA/ USA TODAY SPORTS

Jerry Jones’ Cow­boys have a Wed­nes­day dead­line to sign an ex­ten­sion or Dak Prescott will play un­der the fran­chise tag.

ERIC HARTLINE/USA TODAY SPORTS

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott will earn at least $31.4 mil­lion this sea­son.

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