Cowboys' options for Dak Prescott on heels of Russell Wilson's deal

FRISCO, Texas -- When news of Russell Wilson's four-year, $140 million contract extension broke early Tuesday morning, the only person smiling more than the Seattle Seahawks quarterback and his wife, Ciara, might have been Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

Prescott figures to be the next starting quarterback to sign a long-term extension, and Wilson's deal figures to increase the price tag.

When asked last week about the potential effect a Wilson contract would have on the Cowboys' impending talks with Prescott, executive vice president Stephen Jones did not want to comment. Interestingly, however, in February he volunteered that the Ezekiel Elliott contract talks would start at the $15 million-a-year rate that running back Todd Gurley II received last offseason from the Los Angeles Rams.

Why would Jones change his tune? Quarterback money is not the same as running back money. It's not the same as any position, really.

The talks have not yet started in earnest with Prescott, but it's a deal the Cowboys hope to work out before the start of the 2019 season.

So what are the Cowboys' options? Let's start with ...

Pay him

Adding in what Wilson was set to make in 2019, his full deal with Seattle should be for five years, $157 million, or $31.4 million per year.

If the price of doing business is now $30 million a year for Prescott on the new money in an extension, then call it a day and move on. In a bold prediction made earlier this offseason, I said the Cowboys would sign Prescott to a six-year, $168 million deal, good for $28 million a year. What's another $2 million a year for your starting quarterback?

When the Cowboys started their talks with Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, they wanted to be close to $20 million per season. To get the deal done, they went to $21 million a year with $65 million guaranteed.

Maybe Dallas didn't want to go that high, but that was the market, so the Cowboys moved on that deal.

Perhaps Prescott isn't a $30 million-a-year quarterback, but that's what quarterbacks go for now. The price will not go down, especially with Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes potentially entering talks on new deals this year or next with their respective teams.

Hold firm

Prescott is set to make $2 million this season, so a six-year extension at the aforementioned $28 million a year would make it a seven-year, $170 million deal. That comes in at $28.3 million per season. Remember, Wilson is at $35 million a year in new money and $31.4 million on the extension.

Wilson has won a Super Bowl and played in another. He has two 4,000-yard passing seasons in his seven-year career and has thrown 35 and 34 touchdown passes the past two seasons, respectively. Only New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has more wins than Prescott since 2016, but Prescott has not passed for 4,000 yards or thrown more than 23 touchdown passes in a season.

Wilson and Prescott possess great leadership skills. They can make plays on their own even if they are built differently. They are willing to do whatever they can for the team to win.

If the Cowboys believe Prescott is worth $28 million a year, then should they just automatically acquiesce to the contracts signed by others? That's the price-of-doing-business philosophy.

If they hold at what they believe is Prescott's market, that could create some ill feelings. However, self-awareness is one of Prescott's best traits. He would not exactly be taking a pay cut if he accepted a deal at less than $30 million a year and it would allow the Cowboys more money to keep other players. How much will his early-season struggles a year ago in the passing game before the Amari Cooper trade factor into the negotiations?

Salary-cap space is not Prescott's problem to deal with -- that's the Cowboys' issue. But even in the Lawrence talks, there was some give and take.

Tag away

Hanging over these discussions is the potential use of the franchise tag. The Cowboys used it on Lawrence twice, but have never used the franchise tag on a quarterback. In the past, they were able to get deals done with Troy Aikman and Tony Romo without needing to use the tag.

If the Cowboys go down this road with Prescott, they could be setting up a Kirk Cousins-like departure in 2022. It's a risky proposition, but one that could pay Prescott about $60 million in 2020 and 2021.

The Washington Redskins used the tag twice on Cousins because they never truly loved him, and he signed a three-year, fully guaranteed deal with the Minnesota Vikings last year. The Cowboys love Prescott -- spanning from owner and general manager Jerry Jones to coach Jason Garrett to all of his teammates.

By going the tag route, the Cowboys would almost be placing an expiration date on their relationship with Prescott. Theoretically, they could tag Prescott a third straight year in 2022 at more than $45 million or use the transition tag. As much as the cap continues to rise each year, relying on any tag could majorly hamstring the Cowboys.

Going the tag route also would require the Cowboys to find Prescott's potential successor in the draft over the next two years. Dallas currently has Cooper Rush and Mike White as backups.

Finding quarterbacks has been a difficult task for the Cowboys. They lucked into their last two -- Romo and Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016. Since 2014, the Cowboys have drafted as well as any team in the league. They could trust their judgment in finding the next guy, who could be a college freshman at this point.

In reality, paying Prescott is their best option.