The Dak Dilema: To Pay or Not to Pay?

The Dak Dilema: To Pay or Not to Pay?
Reading Time: 8 minutes.

Should the Cowboys give Prescott a record breaking deal? Is he worth it? Ninety-Nine Yards writers Jamie and Bryan discuss whether he is…


Jamie: Jerry Jones once said in an interview ‘When I look back on my life, I overpaid for all my successes’. If he folds and pays Dak Prescott more than the $175 million over 5 years that is currently on the table, the quote will no longer hold true. That would make Dak the highest paid QB in NFL history. Now I’m sure that record wouldn’t last long, with the upcoming contract extensions of Mahomes and Watson. But Dak isn’t satisfied with that and has asked for a $45 million deal in the final year, which would put his contract in the region $175 million over 5 years, $40 million higher that Russell Wilson’s deal. That would a huge risk for Dallas, here’s why.

Keep an eye on the Cap

Bryan: I can’t stress this enough, with this and all contract talk; be wary of the increasing salary cap. What seems ridiculous now, won’t be in a few years time… Ben Roethlisberger’s a great example: he signed a record breaking 4 year $87m ($21.8m/year) deal in 2015, at the time one of the largest contracts ever. Four years later he penned a 2 year $64m ($34m/year) extension. That’s hell of a pay rise in $ terms, but only a jump from 15.2% to 17.2% cap wise.

The recently signed CBA will see the increases rise even higher, conservative estimates put the 2024 salary cap at $256m. As the cap increases so does player pay, especially for a key position like quarterback. The rumoured 5 year $175m contract for Prescott would average around $35m/year. That’s 17.7% of his years cap but a cheap 13.6% of the low 2024 estimate of $256. For info there are currently 11 QBs whose average % is over 13.6% of the cap.

A top QB, really?

Jamie: Recency bias doesn’t help! If you flick back to Daks best season (his rookie year, which I will dive in to later) you can argue he has the capability to be elite and if he produced like that every year then sure, pay him big, but he hasn’t. He struggled in 2017 and at the start of 2018 before the arrival on Amari Cooper the cowboys were 3-4 and struggling to move the ball offensively at all but let’s look at last year. His stats look great, 4902 yards, 30 TDs, 11 picks and a QBR of 99.7. Amazing right? They went 8-8 and missed the playoffs and got hosed by a shocking Jets team.

I’m sorry but for a guy asking for $185 million, that just isn’t good enough. Not when you need as much help as Dak does and as much as the blame can be shifted to other units or coaches, QBs get paid to produce wins. Especially when they’re surrounded by elite talent on both sides of the ball and on too many occasions, Dak and The Cowboys don’t produce when they need to.

Dak’s good, but is he worth Russell Wilson Money?

Good enough

Bryan: Dak is a good QB and good QBs get paid. Since entering the league in 2016 Dak is 6th in passing yards (15788), 9th in touchdowns (97), tied 2nd for game winning drives (14) as well as 5th for QB rushing yards (1221) and leading QBs for rushing touchdowns (21). His Offensive Rookie of the Year season was special but it’s not his only one. Prescott’s worst season was his sophomore year when he managed 3324 yards and 22 TDs. He’s improved since then especially under new OC Kellen Moore last year throwing for 4902 yards and 30 TDs, 2nd and 5th in the league respectively. Yes the Cowboys didn’t make the playoffs but can you really ask for more from one player?

Without a doubt QB is the most important position on a football team, but it is a team game. Does Dak do better with a top receiver like Cooper or, back in 2016 Bryant… Of course he does. Would Montanna have been as successful without the greatest receiver ever Jerry Rice? How about Tom Brady without arguably the greatest ever coach Belichick? Would Russell Wilson have made the Superbowl without Marshawn Lynch etc? Every QB, every player for that matter, needs help to win. Be it offensive weapons, strong O Line, solid defense – or ideally all three. A great QB can only get you so far on his own.

Other Options?

Jamie: If you want to bang on about that rookie season, his best season where he threw for 3667 yards with 66.7% completion, 23 TDs, 4 picks and had a QBR of 104.9, cool but don’t forget, we can cherry pick best seasons from every other available QB, so lets do that.

We’ll start in his own locker room with the Beige water cannon (more fitting than the red rifle), Andy Dalton. His best season was just 1 year before Daks in 2015. He had 66.1% completion, 3250 yards, 25 Tds, 7 picks and a QBR of 106.3. Granted, his drop off has been huge but Dalton plays for the Bengals, hardly the cornerstone of success in the NFL or a free agent destination. Plenty of people feel he could’ve been a bigger success elsewhere in the league. It didn’t take Dallas long to snap him up.

In the same season as Daltons best, still remaining FA Cam Newton also produced a phenomenal season. Newton took the Panthers all the way to the Superbowl. In the regular season, he threw for 3837 yards, completed 60% of his passes, 30 TDs, 10 picks and a QBR of 99.4. Cam had a major roll in the run game, scoring 10 TDs compared to Daks 6. My point is this: we can compare best seasons with anyone, but neither of these 2 QBs have been paid top money based on 1 great season.

Could newly signed backup Andy Dalton replace Dak Prescott?

Other Options? No thanks

Bryan: As a Cowboys fan “other options” sends a shiver down my spine. I’m just old enough to remember the Hutchinson, Carter, Testeverde years. In the 7 seasons between Troy Aikman’s last start and Tony Romo’s first the Cowboys went through 9 different starting QBs. You’ve only got to look at the recent dramatic examples of the Broncos (7 QBs in the 4 seasons post Manning), Jets (6 in 4 before Sam Darnold), Raiders (9 in 5 before Carr) or Browns (11 in 5 before Baker Mayfield) to learn that finding a good QB isn’t easy. The grass may look a little greener on the other side but it’s not easy to find a quality starting QB.

Don’t spend on a QB?

Jamie: In the past decade, there has been a pattern in winning Superbowl teams. On the whole they have had great depth and reasonably priced or rookie QB. Seattle won with a QB on a rookie deal, Kansas won in the same vein, Baltimore won when Joe Flacco was cheap and they had incredible depth at defence.

If Dallas sign Dak at $37 million, they will have 51% of their cap for the 2020 season and 56% of their cap for the 2021 season tied up in just 8 players. That’s just 15% of their active roster. To Compare, San Francisco have the same 51% of their cap for the 2020 season tied up in 20 players. That’s a whole lot of star power but not a whole lot of depth. If 1 or 2 of those players go down with an injury, its season over.

Good Timing

Bryan: The main reason Dak will most likely get the biggest $ contract ever is timing. Dak and his team took a bit of a risk last year, his draft-mates Wentz and Goff both signed extensions but But that didn’t happen and Dak went to have a stellar 2019, better than both his classmates. Add that to his durability, he’s yet to miss a game whereas Goff has missed 1 and Wentz 8, Prescott has every right to want a contract bigger than theirs.

Dak and his representatives took a gamble not signing last year, a gamble that paid off. Not only did he have a great year, more importantly the new CBA got sorted! This gives the green light for the NFL to increase its revenue to unprecedented levels with the upcoming TV negotiations. Meaning the cap will increase at an even higher rate than before! Teams will have much more money to spend and players (ie. Dak) can ask for their share of that increase.

Too much, too soon?

Jamie: The Rams have been a model of why you don’t pay multiple stars early. After paying Gurley and Goff massive contracts and signing multiple free agents to big 1 year deals, the former Superbowl team missed the playoffs after 2 keys offensive pieces, Gurley and Kupp, went down with injuries this past season. What cost them was their depth and the fact the ‘next man up’ mantra off the NFL wasn’t strong enough to compete. Dallas will be in worse position cap wise than the Rams, in a division with an already strong Eagles outfit and 2 teams in the Giants and Redskins that are on the up and up.

Classic Cowboys

Bryan: Anyone who knows anything about the Cowboys is that it’s their MO to be the centre of attention. This contract is no different. The Jones’ know they don’t even have to think about a deal for it to be all over the news. Prescott’s drawn out contract “drama” is no different to Ezekiel Elliot or DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract “dramas” last year. Or even Emmit Smith’s holdout back in the 1993 Season. The Jones don’t only signing their guys, but make sure they’re in the headlines while they do so.

What has changed about the Cowboys approach player signings: from big free agency acquisitions and blockbuster trades to drafting well and using cheap, veteran free agents and trades to fill in any gaps. Their starting lineup last year featured only four players who hadn’t been drafted by the Cowboys or signed as undrafted rookies, that’s counting the kicker too! Signing players “smarter” has saved them cap space. They’ve $14m (7%) dead cap space in 2020 – most of which, $10m, is due to Travis Frederick’s semi-surprise retirement. Compare this with previous years where their less “smart” moves left them with over $17m in dead cap space: In both 2017 (10.5%) and and 2015 (12%).

Since entering the league in 2016 Prescott leads QBs with 21 rushing TDs.

Not Worth It

Jamie: I like Dak! I think he has great leadership qualities and is clearly capable of being a top 12-18 QB in the league. Had Jerry paid him at the end of last season, the number wouldn’t be close to what he’s asking for and would make sense. If Dallas want to be successful long term, paying Dak $185 million isn’t going to provide long term success. If Dallas let him hit free agency next season, I’m sure there would be a market for him but I don’t see a team offering him the biggest contract in NFL history and when Watson and Mahomes get paid, there’s no way any team will pay Dak more.


Bryan: Dak’s getting paid, big time. He’s not the greatest QB ever but he’s without doubt a franchise quarterback. With a good team at his side, the Cowboys should go places. His deal will seem ridiculous at first, there’ll be uproar! Give it a few years when it’s only 14-15% of the cap, it’ll be an absolute bargain.

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