NFLTR Review: What’s At Stake For Dak Prescott This Year?

     

We finally made it! There was a real live football game last night, and while it wasn’t particularly competitive, it had plenty: touchdowns, tackles and — if you rostered any Chiefs — fantasy football highlights. 

With much, much more to come this weekend, we also have a jam-packed issue of NFLTR Review for you, including: 

  • A look at what the future holds for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
  • Is this Patriots receiving corps the worst Cam Newton has played with?
  • Implications of all the major NFL contracts doled out this week

The Big Picture: What’s At Stake For Dak Prescott?

Anyone hanging around the docks where Jerry Jones parks his yacht last Saturday probably heard a long, piercing “Nooooo” around the time Texans QB Deshaun Watson signed his four-year extension for $39 million a year. 

And even if you allow me some dramatic license, there’s no doubt Watson’s new deal makes the extension the Cowboys owner has been trying to get done with Prescott an even harder task. The two sides have been negotiating for over a year, and despite a constant refrain from Dallas that it believes in him as a franchise quarterback and Prescott reiterating he wants to be a Cowboy, a deal appears no closer to being done. 

Meanwhile, Prescott’s price has done nothing but climb. Most reports had Dallas’ offers starting at $30 million per year and moving up to around $35 million per year on a five-year extension. It’s not clear what exactly Prescott’s asking price has been. One report indicated his camp started at $40 million per year, but that ended up being disputed. 

What has been consistent are reports of the length of the deal being the big hangup for Prescott. Four years is reportedly the longest he’s willing to sign away his rights for, while Dallas loves nothing more than to lock up their guys to six-plus year extensions. 

So now on the brink of the 2020 season, here’s the corner the Cowboys have painted themselves into with Prescott:

  • The quarterback market has skyrocketed with deals for Watson and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
  • Prescott will play out the 2020 season on the $31.4 million franchise tag, which became fully guaranteed as soon as he signed it. 
  • Dallas can tag Prescott again next offseason to keep him from free agency at $37.8 million. If they still can’t work out a deal, a third and final tag would be $54.5 million in 2022. That’s a three-year income of $123.7 million — more than $41 million a year. 

Let’s try and fast forward to play this out. By next offseason, Prescott will have played out two straight contract years. The possibility for a catastrophic injury remains, but he’s shown enough risk tolerance to assume he’s willing to keep betting on himself and play out the next two tags if Dallas’ offer isn’t tempting enough. 

Meanwhile, the Cowboys will have even more incentive to get a deal done. Prescott’s tag will be a huge strain on their cap in 2021 and it will be even worse in 2022. Depending on what happens with NFL revenue losses from the pandemic and future growth, Prescott’s 2022 tag of $54.5 million could be around 20-25 percent of Dallas’ entire cap, an almost untenable number. 

So what does Dallas need to offer to get Prescott to sign a deal and spread out those cap hits? Agents often will use the franchise tag as a starting floor for negotiations, which in this case would make the earlier reports of $40 million per year a slight bargain for Dallas. Length of the deal is still important, even more now that Watson signed for just four years. Ultimately, it’s hard to see anything less than four years, $160 million and $40 million per year getting this done between Dallas and Prescott. 

A year ago, that seemed absurd. Now, it still might be too low. Consider that Prescott nearly threw for 5,000 yards last year and was in the running for MVP midseason. Now Dallas added first-round WR CeeDee Lamb and replaced Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy, which could help push Prescott to a massive year in terms of production, success and recognition. 5,000 yards passing, an MVP and even a Super Bowl win are all possible for Prescott this year. 

The longer Dallas waits, the higher the price will go. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson will be up for a new deal next offseason and based on history Baltimore should hammer it out over the summer. If Dallas doesn’t beat the Ravens to the punch, it will be a repeat of this year when it couldn’t get a deal done before the July 15 deadline under the tag and watched Watson raise the market for Prescott. 

The reality is Prescott has all the leverage here. Dallas missed its chance to lock him in before the other members of his draft class signed and now the Cowboys have no choice but to pay up. Preferably sooner rather than later. 

This Week In Football

  • Watson’s extension is easily the biggest news of the week. He elected for the four-year payout, so his yearly average of $39 million is much smaller than Mahomes. But CBS Sports analyst and former agent Joel Corry looks at the two deals side-by-side and reveals Watson actually comes out slightly ahead in cash flow over the next five years. At the end of that, Watson will be a free agent and Mahomes will still have years and years left on his deal. It was clearly important for Mahomes to allow Kansas City some cap flexibility, which the length of the deal allows. 
  • Jadeveon Clowney finally ended his search for a new team once there was no risk of having to practice in training camp. In the end, his familiarity with Titans HC Mike Vrabel won out despite some attempts at shenanigans from the Saints and Ravens. Clowney also secured a no-tag clause, so he’ll try to get his $20 million a year again in 2021…when the cap could be $25 million lower. 
  • Now that teams have some clarity on the 2021 salary cap, the extensions are coming fast and furious. Entering the final year of his deal, Chargers WR Keenan Allen inked a four-year deal that pays him $20 million per year and significantly moves forward the second tier of the receiver market. This could impact players like Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Chris Godwin in the next 8-12 months. 
  • Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins also negotiated his own extension and made it clear why Houston wanted to trade him instead of pay it. Hopkins added two years onto the three left on his deal at an average of just over $27 million a year in new money. That includes a $27.5 million signing bonus, plus no-tag and no-trade clauses. It’s an outstanding deal for Hopkins, especially with no agent. Meanwhile, Arizona has a quarterback on a rookie deal and can afford not to play hardball with Hopkins. Plus, the $18.8 million average over the full five years is pretty reasonable. 
  • With the receivers getting paid, so did the guys who cover them. Bills CB Tre’Davious White kicked it off by signing a four-year, $70 million extension to nudge the cornerback market up to $17.5 million a year. That deal looked good for the Bills at the time and it turned into a home run just days later with Rams CB Jalen Ramsey broke the $20 million a year barrier at five years and $105 million total. White was a defensive player of the year candidate last year, so he’s the rare case of a bargain even after resetting the market at his position. 
  • Instead, it was the Browns locking up a back, signing No. 2 RB Kareem Hunt to a two-year, $13.25 million extension. Hunt was set to be an unrestricted free agent next year and despite a crowded market he likely could have made more. But staying in Cleveland apparently was important for the Toledo product. 
  • Packers RB Aaron Jones also revealed his agent and the Packers have been discussing a potential long-term deal. Jones is a fascinating case, as Green Bay’s selection of RB AJ Dillon in round two seemingly sealed Jones’ departure in free agency next offseason. However, if Jones is willing to take a deal like Hunt, Green Bay probably wouldn’t mind pairing him and Dillon. The Packers number for Jones at the Combine was reportedly $6.5 million a year. The question is, is that a number Jones can live with?
  • It’s incredibly unusual to see teams bail on high draft picks so soon, but the Raiders saw enough from third-round rookie Lynn Bowden Jr. to cut bait and trade him to Miami. After an earlier deal between the two teams, the final swap ended up being Bowden and a sixth-round pick to the Dolphins in exchange for LB Raekwon McMillan and a fifth to the Raiders. 
  • With a bevy of free agents and some salary cap belt-tightening ahead in 2021, the Steelers weren’t expected to do any extensions this year. But the Steelers made something happen for the 31-year-old DL Cameron Heyward, signing him to a new five-year, $75 million deal. The deal is reportedly backloaded, but it still gives Heyward, who’s the heart of the defense, some respect by not asking him to play out a contract year without compromising Pittsburgh’s long-term flexibility. 
  • 2020 was primed to be an incredible year for Broncos OLB Von Miller, as he was locked in and rededicated after a disappointing 2019. Instead, it’s possible Miller won’t play at all after dislocating the peroneal tendon in his ankle. There’s some hope outside the building Miller could return, but it doesn’t appear that the team expects that to happen. 

Nickels & Dimes 

Quick-hit thoughts as we kick off 2020…

I’m as excited as anyone for football to be back. But there’s always some rust in the first month of the season as teams get back into the swing of things and if anything it’ll be worse this year with the lack of practice time. It might not be the most aesthetically pleasing football but I also probably won’t care…

In the same vein, the worst part about training camp and September every single year are the injuries, and this year, in particular, could be a bloodbath with the heightened risk of acclimation injuries. We’ve already seen Miller and Derwin James go down. It’s something teams are aware of, too, so hopefully they can head it off. The NFL is better when its stars are playing…

From nearly every angle, any questions about QB Cam Newton’s fit in New England were built on misconceptions and shallow stereotypes, from Newton not being able to run New England’s offense to his love for celebrations clashing with the military-style culture. Newton gave an insightful interview on his own doubts about Bill Belichick and how he was won over, plus how he’s worked to cement himself as a starter and captain in just a couple of months. 

Seeing Newton with the Patriots was one of my top-ten storylines for 2020, but I have to admit the current talent on offense isn’t as good as what Newton’s likely become accustomed to the past couple of years in Carolina. 

Coaching is obviously the big X-factor, as is Newton’s health. We’ll see soon if he can carry a team like he has in the past because he might have to on offense…

In a lot of ways, the Steelers remind me of where the Carolina Panthers were heading into last season. Veteran quarterback coming off a severe injury. Veteran-heavy roster with a high number of players on expiring contracts. Ultimately Carolina was doomed when Newton was hurt again, so as long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, the Steelers should be able to maximize their window better than Carolina did. Either way, this team is going to look very different in 2021…

One of my favorite NFL stats is this one: For 15 years from 2004 to 2019, one of either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Roethlisberger represented the AFC in the Super Bowl with the exception of the one year Joe Flacco was elite for the Ravens. Can the next generation of Mahomes, Jackson and Watson do something similar?… 

From The Heart

Ten years ago, my dad, brother and I started a tradition. We had just come home from a two-year missionary trip overseas where we had to stay up late to listen to the Panthers, our favorite team, online on the radio. Sometimes they’d play in primetime and we’d get to watch on TV, but those were rare. So we were dying to get inside the stadium and actually see a game. 

This weekend, I’ll fly back home to watch a game with my dad and brother for the 10th straight year. A lot of things will be different. We won’t be in Bank of America stadium, cheering on the team, eating barbecue nachos or laughing when Dad inevitably has beer spilled on him. 

2020 has changed a lot of plans, including those. But the two most important ingredients will still be there: football and family. We’ll smoke a pork butt and kick back on our couches. We’ll keep an eye on our fantasy teams and talk smack about the results. Maybe I’ll even spill a beer on Dad to keep up the tradition. 

And I’ll be grateful that, at least for a week, football is back. That’s one tradition I hope you join me in. 

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