Dak Prescott won because he didn’t blink.
The astonishing four-year, $160 million contract that Prescott struck on Monday to remain the Dallas Cowboys quarterback for the foreseeable future makes him the highest-paid player ever in the franchise’s rich (in more ways than one) history and came with a record $75 million payout for the first year.
Check that again: $75 million. Of Jerry’s money. In Year 1.
Prescott got a $66 million signing bonus and $9 million base salary for 2021, figures confirmed to USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein, all of which is so well-earned and a bit of payback after he played his first four years (with two NFC East titles) for the NFL-paltry average of $680,800. Now he’s set to pocket $126 million during the first three years and poised to strike again before the new deal expires, or soon after that.
By comparison, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes — whose $45 million average salary on a 10-year contract is the only one in the NFL that tops Prescott’s $40 million average — got a $10 million signing bonus while earmarked for $63 million in the first three years.
Yes, Prescott beat Jerry at his own game — money. But here’s what I’m wondering: Couldn’t the Cowboys have struck this deal with Prescott last year?
Shoot, last year it would not have cost Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as much, although that $40 million-per-year number (say what?) has been floating about for some time. But the major sticking point last year was the length of the deal. The Cowboys wanted a five-year deal. Prescott wanted four years.
Well, now we see how that turned out.
The quarterback market, as usual, continued to escalate since last year, with Mahomes’ big deal and the Deshaun Watson haul that netted $39 million per year. So while the Cowboys might have struck a deal with Prescott last year in the $35 million-per-year range, time surely turned out to be money as NFL inflation persisted.
In negotiations dating to February 2019, the Cowboys apparently wanted Prescott to take something of a hometown discount, selling the notion that there’s added value in being the face of “America’s Team.” Of course there’s added value in being a Cowboy and in being positioned in a lineage of star quarterbacks that over the decades has included “Dandy Don” Meredith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Tony Nostradamus. Yet classy Prescott, 27, has already been cashing in on that status, hawking for Frito Lay, DirecTV, Chunky Soup, Okios yogurt and Sleep Number, among other endorsements.
So the discounts have already been had the other way — as in Dallas getting its franchise quarterback for a fourth-round pick. And if Jerry has a need for customized bedding on his yacht, well, Dak can surely get him a good deal.
MORE:Dak Prescott, Cowboys agree to terms on four-year, $160 million contract
ANALYSIS:Winners and losers from Prescott’s new contract with Cowboys
In two seasons, beginning with the franchise tag the Cowboys slapped on No. 4 just before the pandemic hit, Prescott will rake in $106.4 million. He played under the tag last season for $31.4 million and then was injured. When he was last seen on a football field, it was gruesome to witness what was a spectacular season in the making come to an abrupt halt after five games as he suffered a fractured ankle. It was heartbreaking to see him in tears as he was taken off the field on a cart.
Yet here’s to the virtue of betting on yourself. Prescott didn’t settle for the Cowboys’ “best offer” last year, then proceeded to produce on a pace that would have set the NFL’s single-season passing record. If you thought the injury ruined his chances for a big-money extension, think again. And now the Cowboys, with inside knowledge, are betting $160 million on his full recovery.
The NFL system, inherently designed to work against the players, worked for Prescott. This is rare stuff. But here’s another example of an NFL solar eclipse.
Which NFL player collected the most cheese over the previous five years? That would be Kirk Cousins, who has won nothing by the measure of championships yet banked $138 million from 2016-2020, after his multiple franchise-tagged years in Washington led to a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million free-agent deal with Minnesota.
Prescott, who grew up in Louisiana as a Cowboys fan and really, really wanted to stay, didn’t have to leave for his big payday. That’s the beauty of this. There was the threat that Dallas would again use the franchise tag on Prescott, but that would have cost $37.7 million in 2021 without ensuring they wouldn’t ultimately lose him. As it stands now, they’ve saved more than $15 million in room under the salary cap, projected around $185 million for this year.
So as much as Prescott won with this exchange, the Cowboys didn’t exactly lose.
For one thing, they’ve squashed the drama. Sure, there will be the matter of Prescott playing up to his contract. But after contracts for several years that didn’t play up to his level, I’m guessing his game won’t suddenly fall off the cliff.
Instead, the Cowboys bought some stability and locker room peace by finally doing right in taking care of the team leader whose respect inside the building is off the charts. And with the cap savings, the Cowboys are better equipped to add some pieces to help that underperforming defense that will be so essential to win big. I mean, Dak can’t throw the ball and rush the passer.
Then there’s this: If you’re Jones, able to pay somebody $160 million, it is just another indicator of how you’re rolling. It’s striking to consider how the NFL funny money has grown over the years. In 1989, Jones bought the franchise and Texas Stadium lease from “Bum” Bright for $140 million — which at the time was the most ever paid for a pro sports franchise in the U.S. Jones leveraged the entire fortune he had amassed for his family, largely in the oil and gas business, to pull if off.
Now he’s committed to pay Prescott more than it took to buy the franchise.
And, well, that franchise is still the richest in the NFL and beyond, worth $5.5 billion in 2020, according to Forbes. This, and they haven’t won squat since the glory years of the 1990s, when flip phones were all the rage.
Would be nice for the Cowboys if they could win big again. They’re surely paying for the possibility. Check out Prescott’s cap numbers in 2022, 2023 and 2024: $33.2 million. $44.2 million. $47.2 million. Then consider that the NFL’s revenue stream (and by extension, salary cap) is on the launching pad for more significant escalation as negotiations for new TV and streaming media deals are apparently close to completion.
As usual, Jerry is in the middle of that mix, too. As well as anyone, he knows what paying Prescott market value (or more) means in a larger context.
So no need to cry for Jerry. The tears are reserved for Dak, and they are tears of joy.