"It's been urgent for us. We certainly want to get that done," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told reporters last week at the Senior Bowl. "That's our No. 1 priority as we go into the offseason -- to get his contract, find some resolution to it and get it done."
The Cowboys wanted to get Prescott signed to a new deal last spring, then it was before training camp, then it was during training camp, then definitely before the 2019 season started. The Cowboys then pursued signing a deal by the early part of the season, but the season started and ended without Prescott under contract for 2020 and beyond.
It wasn't for a lack of trying. The Cowboys thought they were close to signing Prescott in September, but the sides could not close a deal even if it guaranteed the quarterback about $100 million.
So what happens now?
Let's take a look at the options.
What is the best play for the Cowboys?
Since Dallas didn't get the deal done with Prescott last year, the ideal scenario would be to get a contract in place before the Cowboys need to use the franchise tag on March 10. There are two reasons why that is in the Cowboys' best interest. First, teams always want to take care of their quarterback situation. That's why the Cowboys had urgency to get a deal done in September. Well, that and the chance to use Prescott's final year under contract to spread out some of the salary-cap responsibilities.
The Cowboys have begun contract negotiations at the NFL scouting combine in the past. Since they have already had meaningful talks with Prescott's agent, Todd France, it would seem they can cut to the chase rather quickly in Indianapolis if there is a desire to get a deal done.
Would Dallas use the franchise tag on Prescott?
If the Cowboys can't reach a deal with Prescott, there is no question they will use the franchise tag. The Cowboys have used the tag in recent years to keep pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and receiver Dez Bryant -- either on one-year, prove-it deals, such as with Lawrence in 2018, or as a placeholder on long-term deals, such as with Lawrence in 2019 and Bryant in 2015.
But there is no "if" here. Teams don't let franchise quarterbacks walk away.
Which tag will the Cowboys use?
That's the real question here. There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive and nonexclusive.
The nonexclusive tag would allow Prescott to shop around, but if a team signed him, it would have to forfeit two first-round picks if the Cowboys opted not to match the deal. (Technically, the sides could work out an alternative trade, but why would the Cowboys settle for anything less than two first-round picks?) The nonexclusive tag figures to be about $27 million.
The exclusive tag would take Prescott off the market altogether. And it would also cost the Cowboys about $33 million, which would chew up a good amount of the roughly $80 million in salary-cap room that ESPN Stats & Information projects the Cowboys to have.
What are Prescott's options if he is tagged?
He can do what Bryant did in 2015 and choose to skip the offseason program. That would not be in the Cowboys' best interest, especially with a new coach in Mike McCarthy. That move, in turn, would boost Prescott's leverage in contract talks.
But could he skip the offseason? Quarterback Kirk Cousins did not skip the work when he was tagged by Washington, but the Redskins were never totally in love with Cousins the way the Cowboys are with Prescott.
Prescott went through the hard part of playing last season for $2.1 million while staring at potential millions being offered by the Cowboys. Knowing he would have at least $27 million or $33 million guaranteed for 2020 would likely lead to more resolve.
If Prescott decides to skip the offseason work, whatever you do -- don't call it a holdout. Since Prescott would not be under contract, he would not be holding out.
What would the tag mean for the Cowboys' future?
The sides would have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. If they didn't work out a deal, then Prescott would have to play the 2020 season on the tag, and both sides would be in the same predicament next offseason.
If they use the tag, then the Cowboys almost have to look at it as a two-year proposition, because in a long-term deal, Prescott would not accept anything less than what he could gain under the tag for two seasons. So if they use the nonexclusive tag, he would make at least $59.4 million the next two seasons. And if it is the exclusive tag, that would be $72.6 million in 2020 and '21.
Should Dallas consider drafting a QB?
Well, some folks believe you should draft a quarterback every year, but there's a difference between selecting a quarterback in the seventh round and taking a quarterback in the top three rounds.
If the Cowboys have to use the tag, then it could also set up the beginning of the end of the relationship with Prescott -- even if that is not their intention. It's just the way the business works -- especially when the third-year of a tag would edge to nearly $40 million (nonexclusive tag) or $50 million (exclusive tag).
When it became clear Washington was not going to be able to keep Cousins, the Redskins were able to swing a trade for quarterback Alex Smith, which was working out just fine before he suffered a season-ending leg injury. But that transaction proved somewhat lucky because the Kansas City Chiefs had Patrick Mahomes in reserve to take over and were willing to deal their starter.
There is another reason for the Cowboys to draft a quarterback. Prescott's backup, Cooper Rush, is set to be a restricted free agent. The low tender just to keep Rush is more than $2 million. It is possible the Cowboys could look to sign Rush to a small extension this offseason at a lesser figure, but drafting a quarterback could give them a quarterback to groom, especially if the worst-case scenario with their relationship with Prescott happens.