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The countdown clock is ticking on the contract negotiations between the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott.
It is now T-minus five days for the Cowboys to come to terms on a long-term deal or be forced to place the franchise tag on the face of the franchise for a second straight year, thus putting into motion a potential doomsday scenario of Prescott leaving via free agency in 2022.
Here is what we know:
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones and Prescott’s agent Todd France have been in communication and both want to get a deal done. There is renewed optimism surrounding the negotiations after doing this mating dance for the last three offseasons.
But no significant progress has been made. Jones has a long-held belief that deadlines make deals. Of course, the lack of a long-term contract in recent seasons proves that Jones’ theory is more of a hypothesis and not quite a rule.
The Cowboys have until 3 p.m. on March 9 to place the franchise tag on Prescott. The goal is to get a deal done before then but if there is no deal then the Cowboys will place a franchise tag on him for the second straight year to keep him from hitting free agency.
They did the same last year, tagging him for $31.4 million. The Cowboys were also unable to come to terms on a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline and Prescott entered the season on the franchise tag. They were allowed to start negotiations again once the 2020 season ended.
A second tag will cost $37.7 million and the Cowboys will have until July 15 to sign him to a long-term deal or he will play the season on the tag.
Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation in his right ankle against the New York Giants on Oct. 11 and underwent surgery that night. He had an additional surgery in December to strengthen the ankle but he is still ahead of the original four-to-six month rehab window from the first surgery.
According to sources, Prescott is out of his walking boot and already running. He should be back to 100 percent in April but the Cowboys always planned to play it cautious with the primary goal of him being ready to go by training camp in July.
The Cowboys have no concerns about the injury and his recovery and it is not a factory in the contract negotiations. The team would sign him now if a deal could be agreed upon.
Prescott turned down a five-year deal worth nearly $35 million annually last season largely because he wanted to sign for no more than four years. The Cowboys have never done a deal shorter than five years and they want the longer contract so they can spread out the hit against the salary cap.
There is no indication that either side has compromised on the length. But there is a clear understanding that the value of the deal has increased significantly.
No prospective deal will fall below the franchise tag of $37.7 million, with Prescott more likely getting a deal between Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans quarterback, who have deals worth $45 million and $39 million annually.
A former agent recently proposed that Prescott ask for $41 million annually.
The Cowboys currently don’t have the cap space to handle the $37.7 million franchise tag. According to NFL Players Association records, they are roughly $17.5 million under the proposed cap of $180 million. With new television deals expected to be agreed upon in the near future, there is a chance the league could increase the cap slightly.
But, as of now, the Cowboys are in a pickle with the cap and Prescott’s franchise tag. A new deal before March 9 could potentially lower his cap number and make the issue moot.
But short of that, the Cowboys will have to clear room with contract restructures and/or releases.
The Cowboys created more $31 million in cap space in 2020 by restructuring the contracts of tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
The Cowboys can save $1.5 million against the cap by releasing punter Chris Jones, who has been made expendable by the play of Hunter Niswander last season.
The future of the team’s quarterback position could be decided in the next five days. The Cowboys have consistently said they want to keep Prescott long term. Team owner Jerry Jones compared Prescott to his son Stephen Jones and said there is no going forward without Prescott, a 2016 fourth-round pick who has unexpectedly developed into one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
But if the Cowboys place a second franchise tag on Prescott, a future without him is certainly on the horizon. Prescott will have all the leverage in contract talks. Either, the Cowboys agree to a deal on his terms or he plays on the franchise tag in 2021 with an eye on unrestricted free agency in 2022 when he can offer his services to the highest bidder. The latter is real because a third franchise tag would be at a cost-prohibitive $54 million for the Cowboys.
Every time Prescott has bet on himself and turned down a Cowboys offer, he has been rewarded by an increase in value. Don’t expect him to blink now.