Year on $31.4M tag wouldn’t faze Dak
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.
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.”
Jerry Jones’ Cowboys have a Wednesday deadline to sign an extension or Dak Prescott will play under the franchise tag.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will earn at least $31.4 million this season.