Dak Prescott had said he wanted to be a Cowboy for life. The Cowboys had insisted there was no moving forward without Prescott. And yet, negotiations lasted more than two years.
Prescott and the Cowboys agreed to a four-year deal worth $160 million with $126 million guaranteed, two people with knowledge of the contract confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Monday. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the terms had not been publicly announced. Prescott could earn up to $164 million in four years, and the deal includes no-trade and no-tag clause. Thus Prescott could return to the negotiating table as soon as three years from now. At that point, he’ll be just 30 years old.
Teammates were eager for Prescott to achieve long-term security.
“It’s no secret we want Dak back,” Lamb told USA TODAY Sports in February. “I trust that the guys in the front office are definitely going to make the right decisions. “I hope he’s coming back 2021 and for the long haul.”
With an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus, Prescott is set to earn $75 million in 2021 – one year after he played out a $31.4 million franchise tag. Over his first three years, he’ll earn an average of $42 million per year, the people said. Technically, the deal that voids to four years will span six to give the team accounting flexibility logging Prescott’s hefty signing bonus.
Only Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who signed a 10-year extension worth $450 million last July, will play on a contract with a higher annual salary or guarantee than Prescott. Prescott’s deal is set to expire seven years before Mahomes’.
The NFL salary cap is expected to balloon amid upcoming TV contract renewals and the advent of legalized sports gambling.
The Cowboys announced generally Monday evening that the deal had been reached, with a more detailed press announcement scheduled for Wednesday. Prescott is expected to address reporters then.
The Cowboys drafted Prescott 135th overall in 2016. He rose from fourth-string quarterback to immediate starter in a matter of months, supplanting Tony Romo as the Cowboys’ face of the franchise. Prescott started 72 straight games, including three playoff games, from 2016 through the fifth of week of the 2020 season. He compiled a 42-27 regular-season record, throwing for 17,634 yards and 106 touchdowns to 40 interceptions. He racked up another 24 rushing touchdowns as well as his receiving touchdown one quarter before his 2020 season ended abruptly.
Prescott was off to his best statistical season in 2020, averaging 371.2 passing yards per game, when a designed run went awry and he suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle. He was carted off the field of AT&T Stadium in tears, an ambulance waiting to transport him to a local hospital for immediate surgery that night to clean the wound and repair the fracture. Prescott hasn’t played since, though he is again walking.
The Cowboys maintained throughout that he was ahead of schedule to recover and that they were confident in his potential. Prescott’s evolution had been “nothing short of a perfect picture,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in January. Added executive vice president Stephen Jones: “This is Dak Prescott’s football team.” Stephen Jones said the front office was “very committed” to finalizing Prescott’s extension.
Monday, they put their money where their mouths had long been.
At no point since Prescott and agent Todd France arrived at the negotiating table in February 2019 did either side publicly say they wanted out. But a deal that Jerry Jones said was “imminent” in September 2019 stalled spectacularly. The two sides did not reach an agreement – or, really, even have meaningful discussions – leading up to the July 15 franchise tag deadline in 2020. Instead, Prescott and France bet on Prescott’s worth.
“I’m a Cowboy and couldn’t be happier,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports that night. “I look forward to working along Coach McCarthy, the staff, and my teammates to be the best team we can be in pursuit to our goal of a Super Bowl.”
The Cowboys finished 6-10 in McCarthy’s debut season, Prescott topping a long list of injured starters. After Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys didn’t win again for 42 days. Questions ensued: Could a team with this many holes commit a hefty sum to Prescott? Or did the collapse in Prescott’s wake overwhelmingly confirm the leadership he’d been lauded for since his rookie breakout?
The Jones family has long maintained that deadlines spur deals. This time, it was Tuesday’s deadline to place the franchise tag on Prescott that spurred long-awaited action. Technically, a person with knowledge of the Cowboys’ plans said on condition of anonymity, the Cowboys are still expected to designate Prescott with the $37.68 million franchise tag by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. The mechanism will allow for the details of the deal to be ironed out before pen hits paper. But the Cowboys and Prescott reaching agreement means Prescott will no longer count $37.68 million against the cap in a year when COVID-19 has hurt revenue and the salary cap could shrink for the first time in a decade.
The Cowboys will have more flexibility to shore up their roster in free agency. Monday, they took their most important step.
Prescott and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott expressed their hope for this in a September interview with USA TODAY Sports. Elliott said he’d fight for his draft classmate to re-sign with the Cowboys. Prescott agreed.
“I can’t imagine me not in that backfield with him,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re here for the long haul together.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
This breaking story has been updated.