The Dallas Cowboys finished one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory Sunday with a 47-16 thrashing of the Washington Redskins. Despite the sound victory, the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East with a win in New York, thereby sending Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to an early offseason. While the season may have been a disaster on many fronts for Dallas, one thing that did solidify was the belief that Dak Prescott is the franchise quarterback moving forward. This was thanks in large part to the best statistical season of the fourth year QB’s career, one in which he threw for career-highs in passing yards (4,902), touchdowns (30), and yards per attempt (8.2). He did all of this while throwing just 11 interceptions. Additionally, the Cowboys featured the number one offense in terms of total yardage in the league. So why not pay the man under center powering the engine?
Dak Prescott was taken with the 135th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was not the Cowboys’ first pick of the fourth round but rather the compensatory pick gifted to Dallas when they declined to resign star running back, DeMarco Murray. Due to injuries to both Kellen Moore and franchise stalwart Tony Romo, he was thrust into the starting gig from almost day one and been asked to shoulder the burdens and expectations associated with quarterbacking America’s Team. To say he’s largely succeeded in that task would be an understatement as Prescott has been named to multiple Pro Bowls, won the NFC East twice, and won a playoff game, a noteworthy accomplishment in the modern age of Cowboys football. He’s elevated his game year by year and watched as many of his peers, players whom he has either matched or surpassed statistically, get paid before him. He and his team expected a new deal before the start of the 2019 campaign, yet no agreement has been reached to date, and now the Cowboys appear to be mulling over the idea of simply franchise tagging their young 26-year-old QB ahead of the 2020 season.
The argument in favor of franchising Dak is that a new head coach and staff will be taking the wheel following Jason Garrett’s dismissal and that hampering them with a QB they may or may not want with a big-money deal would hamstring them. This seems like a silly viewpoint as Jerry Jones is no stranger to making significant decisions and simply forcing his incoming coach to accept them. This was the case when he hired Jason Garrett as the Offensive Coordinator in 2007 and immediately named him the head-coach-in-waiting despite having not interviewed a single candidate for the vacant head coach position. To give his franchise QB the kind of deal he deserves prior to hiring his next coach wouldn’t be nearly as great of a stretch.
During Sunday’s game against the Redskins, former Cowboy and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman said that Dak and his team have been surprised that a deal hasn’t been reached with the Cowboys brass on a new deal this season. What’s more, he pointed to Prescott’s rookie year when Dak led Dallas to a 13-3 record and the NFC’s top seed. Rather than express excitement for his young quarterback’s first playoff run, Jerry instead pontificated on the idea of a “storybook ending” in which Tony Romo would come off the bench and lead Dallas to a Superbowl title. This, Aikman stated during the broadcast, bothered Prescott, leading the signal-caller to question whether the franchise truly appreciated him and everything he’s done in the years since as much as they should. It’s for this very reason it would be a mistake to franchise Dak now.
There’s some speculation that Dak’s contract situation at least somewhat distracted him as the season wore on. Paired with Troy’s prior context, it’s not hard to see how Prescott could feel underappreciated by not just a portion of the fan base but his own front office. Carson Wentz got paid for lesser stats and despite numerous injuries. Jared Goff got paid despite being a glorified bus-driver during his team’s Superbowl run. To deny Dak what he’s earned despite not being drafted anywhere near the top 2 picks of the 2016 draft as Wentz and Goff were, and to instead tell him to “prove it” is to open your palm and slap him across the face. Players need to know their franchise and coaching staff fully respect and trust them. By dangling a new, comparable deal to the two QBs named above beyond his reach, Dallas risks furthering that divide with the single most important player on their roster. The exact terms and dollars need to make sense for everybody involved, of course, but cheating your QB out of what he’s owed is never a good idea.