Perhaps mercifully, a determination on Dak Prescott's contractual fate with the Dallas Cowboys will be known by Wednesday's franchise tag deadline at 4 p.m. ET, even though sources told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that the Cowboys are unlikely to reach a contract extension with their franchise quarterback by the deadline.
Talks between the Cowboys and Prescott's agent, Todd France, began in the spring of 2019. The club initially hoped a deal could be consummated before training camp, then during training camp, then at the start of the season, but it never happened.
Unable to get a contract worked out before NFL free agency, the Cowboys put the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott, knowing that July 15 is the deadline to sign him to a long-term deal.
The negotiations have generated a lot of public debate. Do the Cowboys really believe Prescott is their guy? Why won't owner and general manager Jerry Jones just pay the man? Does Prescott really think he should be the NFL's highest-paid quarterback, even after the 10-year extension worth up to $503 million Patrick Mahomes agreed to Monday with the Kansas City Chiefs?
By this afternoon, there will be answers. Either Prescott and the Cowboys will have their contract agreement or the quarterback will play the upcoming season on the franchise tag.
For the final time, here are some answers to some key questions regarding Prescott's situation:
Where do negotiations stand?
It seems the sides have not had any substantive talks since March. Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic played into that because there was not the traditional offseason program. Prescott did not miss any on-field work even if he was not a part of all the virtual meetings.
Before the Mahomes news, sources said the Cowboys' offer would make Prescott the second-highest-paid quarterback in terms of average per year to Seattle's Russell Wilson, who makes $35 million a season. That offer includes a guarantee that is on par with the $110 million the Los Angeles Rams gave Jared Goff. What is unknown are the details of the Cowboys' offer, such as how much is guaranteed at the time of signing and how much is guaranteed for injury and cash flow.
Is the deal's length a concern?
Yes. The Cowboys would like a five-year deal; Prescott would like four years. The reasons are pretty obvious. If the Cowboys are going to make such a commitment, they would like it to be for as long as possible so they are not back at the negotiating table any sooner than necessary. Prescott would like a shorter term so he can hit the open market again when the new television money is expected to kick in. That might be a bit trickier now considering the pandemic, but live sports has been a cash cow.
How does Mahomes' deal impact the discussions?
Dak's future in Dallas in question after no deal
Adam Schefter outlines how rare it is for an NFL quarterback to play a season on the franchise tag and what this means for Dak Prescott's future with the Cowboys.
Truthfully, it probably doesn't all that much. The Cowboys likely would do a 10-year deal with Prescott, but if he won't do a five-year deal, why would he do a longer deal if the guaranteed money does not go up appreciably?
Quarterbacks are judged on wins and stats. Mahomes has both. His first two years as Kansas City's starter are off the charts. He has taken the Chiefs to an AFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl win in his first two seasons. Prescott has one playoff win and has missed the postseason twice in his first four seasons.
Depending on how you want to read the Mahomes deal, it's a max of $50.3 million per season, $45 million per season based on new money or $39.75 million when looking at it as a 12-year deal. You know which way France will view it and which way the Cowboys will view it.
What happens if the sides do not reach an agreement?
Prescott has to play the season on the $31.4 million tag and the sides cannot discuss a long-term deal until 2021. Essentially, this might kick the can down the road for a year before the sides get into the same prolonged dance again. The only good news is we wouldn't have to hear and read incessant reports about negotiations until next offseason.
Could Prescott sit out?
Now that he has signed the tender, he is under contract and would face prohibitive fines if he does not report to camp. For those who believe Prescott would hold out, he played last season for $2 million, why wouldn't he play for $31.4 million this season?
If he had not signed the tender, he would not have faced any fines for skipping training camp and preseason games (however those look starting later this month). He could have shown up the week before the season opener against the Rams.
Can the Cowboys use the tag on Prescott in 2021?
Yes, and it would cost them roughly $38 million, a 120% increase over what he makes in 2020. Washington used the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins two years in a row in 2016 and '17, but never made him an offer as substantial as the one the Cowboys have made to Prescott.
If the Cowboys wanted to use the franchise tag on Prescott for a third year, it would cost more than $54 million.
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Have the Cowboys gotten to this point with a franchise-tagged player before?
Yes, but not a quarterback. They were able to sign Troy Aikman and Tony Romo to long-term deals before either could have come close to testing the market. In the years between Aikman and Romo, they did not have a quarterback they wanted to keep long term.
In 2015, the Cowboys put the tag on receiver Dez Bryant. He spent only a handful of days around the team in the offseason because he did not sign the tender. Eventually, the Cowboys and Bryant agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal, but it nearly did not happen.
After the sides agreed, the Cowboys needed Bryant to sign the contract before sending it to the league office. It wasn't until about 10 minutes before the deadline that Bryant made it to Valley Ranch to put pen to paper.