Dak Just got Paid: What Comes Next for the Cowboys?

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AP

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws against the Cleveland Browns during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Zach Schiller, Sports Editor

After two plus years of extended negotiations, the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott have finally reached an agreement on a long-term contract. The deal ties Dak to the Cowboys for the next four years and is worth $160 million, including $126 million guaranteed. Prescott’s contract ranks second in the NFL in terms of total money, average annual value and guaranteed money behind only Kansas City Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. 

Long one of the most criminally underpaid players in the league, Prescott made just under $5 million over the first four years of his career due to him being a fourth round pick. When he finally reached free agency after the 2019 season, he and the Cowboys were unable to reach a long-term agreement. This resulted in Prescott playing under the franchise tag last year, in what amounted to a one-year contract worth $31.4 million. Prescott’s decision to decline the Cowboys’ offer in search of a better deal next offseason looked like an incredible gamble to start the 2020 season, as he led the league with 1,690 passing yards through the first four weeks of the season and was on pace to shatter the single-season passing yards record held by Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Prescott though, he suffered a gruesome compound ankle fracture in Week Five against the New York Giants, putting a premature end to his season.

Following the conclusion of the Cowboys’ disappointing 2020 season, some speculated that due to Dak’s injury and very little progress made in contract negotiations over the last couple of years, the team might tag Prescott again or even let him walk away in free agency. However, these rumors were publicly denounced by team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who realized how important Prescott was to the Cowboys’ on-field success. Jones knew that a long-term deal needed to be reached with his franchise quarterback, even admitting in a January interview, “I don’t know how [Prescott] could have any more leverage.” Prescott’s clear value to the team on the field, combined with the fact that the Cowboys would owe him $37.7 million under the franchise tag with no guarantee of him resigning beyond next season, seemed to suggest that Dak would receive a long-term deal worth at least that much in average annual value. Finally, the two sides came to an agreement on Monday, March 8, making Prescott the face of the Cowboys for the next four seasons.

With this deal, the Cowboys have found stability in the most important position in all of football. Dak has had a nice start to his career and risen to heights very few expected when he was the eighth quarterback taken in the 2016 draft. However, being a fourth round success story won’t cut it anymore. When Prescott first arrived at the Cowboys, he was surrounded by the best offensive line in football, which gave Dak incredible protection and paved running lanes for running back Ezekiel Elliot. That, combined with the Cowboys solid defense made it so that Dak did not have to shoulder so much weight in order for the team to be successful. Fast-forward to 2021 and the Cowboys roster looks much different. While the Cowboys arguably boast the league’s deepest group of receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ceedee Lamb, the rest of their team is not nearly as strong around Dak. The Cowboys’ offensive line, decimated by injuries last season, is not the same dominant unit they once were. This had a direct effect on Elliot, who seemed to take a step back last season. Additionally, last year Dallas’ defense was absolutely putrid, ranking as one of the worst defenses in all of football. Despite Dak’s dazzling stats to start last season, he won only one of his four starts.

Football is a team sport and no one player is enough to win football games (as evidenced by Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory). An advantage of Dak’s small salary in the past was that the Cowboys had more money to build a more complete roster around Dak to put him in a position to succeed. However, Prescott’s new contract will make it harder for the Cowboys to surround him with elite players. By paying a premium price for Prescott, Jones and the Cowboys are counting on him to play like one of the top quarterbacks in the league and elevate the level of his teammates around him. And while Prescott has certainly improved over the course of his career into a top ten quarterback, he has yet to show the type of consistent performance that would put him among the league’s upper echelon of signal callers. 

With this contract, the Cowboys are signaling that they believe Dak is the man to guide them to their first Super Bowl in over twenty-five years. Now it’s up to Prescott to see if the Cowboys made the right decision.