Why Cowboys could be willing to allow Dak Prescott to play out final year of his contract

When asked about Dak Prescott’s contract situation a year ago at the NFL Scouting Combine, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said, “My bet is there’s not gonna be a lot said about it. We’ll wake up one day and it’ll be done.”

Thirteen months later and Prescott is still without a new deal. With each passing day it becomes more and more likely that he will be playing out the final year of his contract during the 2024 season.

NFL Network reported Tuesday that both sides have a mutual understanding that there will be no adjustment to his contract entering the 2024 season. Prescott is currently on the books to count $55.45 million against Dallas’ salary cap this season, the second-highest cap number in the NFL. An extension or restructure would lower that number for the upcoming season. The Cowboys deny that they have given up trying to get a new deal done before the season.

“I’m definitely confident,” Prescott said about his contract situation on March 4. “Obviously, it helps the team. It’s important for the (salary cap) numbers. I’ve heard Jerry (Jones) say that it is a process, both sides understand that. Everything is great. It’ll happen.”

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How did things get to this point?

Jerry Jones was very aware that Prescott and his agent, Todd France, got the best of Jones on the franchise quarterback’s last deal. The four-year, $160 million contract that was signed in March of 2021 made Prescott the second-highest paid quarterback behind Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $450 million). Jones was hoping that Prescott would take a little less. It never happened. Not only did Prescott get top dollar, he also got a no-trade clause and a no-tag clause.

Neither side has revealed what exactly they’re looking for in a new deal, but another four-year deal would be the most likely scenario. That deal will likely average more than $50 million per season. Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow all average at least $51 million per season.

Prescott has played at a high level during the previous three years on the deal, leading the Cowboys to three consecutive 12-win seasons and finishing second in league MVP voting last year. However, Dallas continues to struggle in the playoffs, winning only one playoff game during those three seasons.

Jones and the Cowboys seem willing to gamble with the possibility of this being Prescott’s last season in Dallas. That could come after another disappointing showing in the playoffs. Perhaps Jones and company decide that after nine seasons with Prescott as franchise QB and little playoff success, it’s time to move on.



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What would be the plan if the Cowboys decided to move on in 2025?

A lot would depend on what they thought they had in Trey Lance. This is a big offseason, training camp and preseason for the third overall pick in the 2021 draft. Dallas gave up a fourth-round pick for Lance last August. It’s difficult to determine where things stand today because he didn’t get any meaningful reps last season. He’ll likely get that this season as he competes for the No. 2 job. Lance is also scheduled to be a free agent after the 2024 season.

If Lance didn’t end up being the answer, then the Cowboys would be looking to trade or sign a veteran or use a high draft pick on the position. All of these scenarios are significant gambles because there’s no guarantee that they’ll be anywhere close to Prescott, let alone better. Jones has been fortunate to have Troy Aikman, Tony Romo and Prescott for 30 of the 35 years as team owner and general manager.

There was a time when Jones had to rely on Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson or Drew Bledsoe.

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Since arriving to the NFL in 2021, Trey Lance has thrown 102 passes — none last season. (Tim Heitman / USA Today)

Why wouldn’t Prescott just take a team-friendly deal?

First of all, we don’t know that he isn’t willing to do so, it’s just assumed because of how long the last negotiation dragged out and how things are repeating themselves. Also, Prescott plays a position that is in high demand. If you’re regarded as one of the league’s top 10 quarterbacks, which Prescott is, there will be significant interest in free agency. He’ll be 31 in July. That’s young by NFL franchise QB standards.

There’s a good chance whatever he’s seeking right now, he’ll be able to get that or more if he hits free agency next March. Remember, Prescott was going into a contract year in 2020 when he suffered that gruesome season-ending ankle injury. That had no impact on what he was able to get in his next deal. And he’s likely very aware that several teams would be willing to give him the contract he’s looking for next March.



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Why not restructure his contract for this season?

A restructure would push more dead cap money into the future. As things currently sit, he will already count $40.46 million against their cap in 2025. That’s even if he’s on another team.

Not restructuring his contract or getting a new deal done before free agency started three weeks ago was a good sign that Jones is willing to allow Prescott to play out the final year of his deal.

“I don’t fear that,” Jones said last month. “No, I do not. Because I have my mind on being better than we were last year. And that’s where the focus would be. Every player you got has some time when his contract is up. You would walk around with the shakes if you feared it. You can’t, because they all come up. They all can get hurt. They all can lose some talent. So, all of that is not fear. … All we need to do is see if we’re gonna try to do anything. If we’re not, then we’ll go another way.”



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Why does it seem unlikely that a deal will get done before the start of the season?

It has become more and more clear over the last month that Jones’ definition of “all in” was not spending big in free agency to put the best possible team on the field for the 2024 season. It’s that the Cowboys are “all in” on the 2024 season because if things go poorly, there will be notable changes, which could include coaching staff and franchise QB.

If things go well, let’s say an NFC Championship Game appearance or better, Jones is probably willing to bet that Prescott, if playing out the final year of his contract, will re-sign with Dallas next year. Of course, that’s a gamble. Prescott might be ready for something new by that point. Maybe he envisions a better career somewhere else. Maybe another team blows the Cowboys and everyone else out of the water with a big offer. It’s possible, but don’t be surprised if Jones is willing to take that gamble.

“I think there are a handful or more of quarterbacks playing who haven’t won a Super Bowl that will win a Super Bowl,” Jones told reporters this week from the NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando, Fla. “I think Dak is one of them. I’m firm there. He’s one of the ones who can.”

(Top photo of Dak Prescott: Ryan Kang / Getty Images)

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