FRISCO, Texas -- Talks between the Dallas Cowboys and the agent for Dak Prescott should begin to heat up soon, and if they don't, then we have all wasted significant time and energy in discussing the quarterback's short- and long-term future.
By now, everybody should know the major issue between the sides is the length of the contract. The Cowboys want at least a five-year commitment as a way to ease their salary-cap burden. Todd France, the agent who represents Prescott, wants a four-year deal so his client can get back out on the market when the new television money eventually balloons the NFL's economics.
Because we are kind and always solution-based, here's a compromise: a six-year deal.
How is that any kind of compromise, you ask? Well, if former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten always felt the secret was in the dirt, stealing a line from Ben Hogan, then the secret here is in the details.
The proposed compromise would be a six-year deal that voids to four years.
Both sides can then claim a win. The Cowboys can get their salary-cap flexibility in the first two seasons of the deal when teams will be paying somewhat of a price because of the coronavirus pandemic (the NFL's salary cap is projected to be down, at roughly $180 million for the next year), and Prescott can be back on the market in 2025.
A perfect solution? Probably not, but there has to be some compromise in a situation that has played out going on its third offseason.
Here's how it would work:
We know the Cowboys offered Prescott a $50 million signing bonus last year. Let's keep that the same, so that would cost $10 million against the cap from 2021 to 2025 because bonuses can be prorated for only five years.
Now the base salaries:
2021: $20 million (fully guaranteed)
2022: $20 million (fully guaranteed)
2023: $32.5 million ($25 million fully guaranteed)
2024: $32.5 million
2025: $32.5 million
2026: $32.5 million
That's six years, $220 million for an average of $36.7 million a year. In reality, it's a four-year deal worth $155 million for an average of $38.75 million with $115 million fully guaranteed at signing. He would make $90 million over the first two years of the deal.
The cap numbers under this deal would be:
2021: $30 million
2022: $30 million
2023: $42.5 million
2024: $42.5 million
2025: $42.5 million
2026: $32.5 million
How do the Cowboys gain cap flexibility in the second year of the deal? With a tool they have commonly used on all of their major signings. They can turn more than $18 million of Prescott's 2022 base salary into signing bonus for cap purposes and create $14.4 million in room in Year 2 of the deal. Based on a proposed $2 million base salary in 2022, it would add $3.6 million to each of the aforementioned cap numbers from 2023 to 2026.
2022: $15.6 million
2023: $46.1 million
2024: $46.1 million
2025: $46.1 million
2026: $36.1 million
When the deal voids after the 2024 season, the Cowboys would have a $17.2 million hit against their 2025 cap for a player who might not be on their roster anymore or hinder a potential extension they would want to work out.
The Los Angeles Rams are carrying $22.2 million in dead money for trading quarterback Jared Goff. The Philadelphia Eagles are potentially facing a $33 million charge against the cap for trading Carson Wentz. That $17.2 million would be a paltry figure when the league's cap is expected to rise so significantly.
Teams generally like to stay away from voidable deals because of the money that hits the cap in the future. Well, if the Cowboys really want Prescott to be their quarterback for the future, they have ceded the, "We don't do voidable deals" ground. Also, in restructuring the contracts of offensive tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence last year, the Cowboys added voidable years to help with their cap situation. And they could counter future arguments about voidable years by saying they do it only for quarterbacks.
If the Cowboys don't want to get creative, then they should consider not tagging Prescott in 2021 and starting the quarterback process all over again. If Prescott plays on the tag in 2021, he will have earned $69 million over two seasons. And it would almost be a given he would be an unrestricted free agent in 2022 because the cost of a third tag would rise to more than $52 million.
Why should Prescott, 27, consider a six-year deal like this? He took a gamble last season by playing on the franchise tag that guaranteed him $31.4 million and suffered a horrific ankle injury. An argument can be made his price increased because the Cowboys (6-10) were so bad without him in 2020, but is it worth another one-year risk for Dallas?
The type of deal Patrick Mahomes made with Kansas City ($450 million over 10 years) is not an option. Prescott wouldn't accept a five-year deal, so why would he OK a longer one? Prescott essentially would never hit the open market in his prime earning years.
With this six-year setup, Prescott would have $115 million in his pocket for just signing his name on the contract. And he would be back on the market at age 31.
By the time the deal would void, Prescott would have been the Cowboys' starting quarterback for nine years. From a team perspective, that is more than enough time to see if a quarterback can deliver a Super Bowl.
The only quarterback in recent years to take the team that drafted him to a Super Bowl for the first time after his eighth year as a starter was Matt Ryan, who was in his ninth season as the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback in 2016.
If Prescott takes the Cowboys to a Super Bowl in the next three seasons, the Cowboys would gladly work out a revised contract.
And that one would not take as long as this deal has ... at least it shouldn't.