The Cowboys’ signing of Andy Dalton is all about giving Dallas options

The chatter is plentiful surrounding the Dallas Cowboys right now — nothing new there.

Agreement, though? That’s in drastically short supply.

Not only is there still no accord between the Cowboys organization and Dak Prescott on what is hoped will morph into a new, long-term contract, but no one can quite figure out the meaning and undertone of owner Jerry Jones’ latest move.

In fact, as this most unusual of offseasons rumbles forward, no one can even concur on whether Jones’ procurement of Andy Dalton as No. 2 quarterback carries any level of hidden message at all — and the disparity of opinion is striking.

To some, landing a veteran signal caller who could potentially step in and fill the void in a proven, stable manner is the Cowboys’ way of saying that they won’t be held ransom by Prescott, and have shown it by recruiting a viable alternative in the event of a holdout.

The other line of thinking is that the signing is nothing of the sort, that Dalton is being acquired to assist Prescott and serve as a quality backup at a cost made all the more favorable because the former Cincinnati Bengals QB hails from Texas and was keen to be back there.

“Signing Andy Dalton doesn’t send any sort of message to Dak Prescott,” wrote David Moore in the Dallas Morning News. “The Cowboys aren’t insulting their starting quarterback or drawing a line in the negotiating sand. Dalton is the backup, pure and simple. There’s no need to wait for a public proclamation from Jones or head coach Mike McCarthy. The contract makes it clear.”

Dalton’s deal is worth around $3 million, plus incentives that could take it as high as $7 million. On the surface, that’s hardly the kind of investment expected for someone the team thinks will play a lot of meaningful snaps, and it’s only about a fifth of what is being offered to Prescott.

Prescott is officially out of contract at present; the Cowboys have used the franchise tag on him, but he has not yet signed the one-year, $31 million tender. There is until July 15 to agree to an extension, and if one is not forthcoming by that date, there are two choices: Prescott must either play under the franchise tag or sit out the season altogether, like Le’Veon Bell did with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.

Jones is desperate for the Cowboys to thrive and savvy enough to know that, having come to deals with Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper, the way he handles this period could determine the likelihood of the franchise’s success over the next few years.

Prescott threw for 4,900 yards and 30 touchdowns last season but could not lift Dallas to better than 8-8, even in the dreadful NFC East, the league’s worst division by a distance. Could it be, then, that Jones is turning the screw, just a little bit?

“I now feel far more hopeful that Dak Prescott will sign with Jerry Jones sooner than later and not play under the franchise tag,” FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless said on Undisputed. “The reason for that … is Andy Dalton. This will motivate Dak to make a deal. To compromise a little bit. This deal will end up far closer to Jerry’s final offer than to what Dak has been holding out for.

“Dak is going to see the handwriting on the locker room wall, that Jerry now has a viable alternative. Jerry will not flinch to go forward with Andy Dalton. I am hopeful Dak will see the light, swallow a little pride.”

And that seems like the plainest truth in Dallas. The Cowboys love Dak. They want him to be the QB that leads them back to the promised land. He just hasn’t been that guy yet — and having Dalton around gives the Cowboys options. Leverage, particularly these days, is a very valuable thing.

Prescott has gotten some of the things he wants from Jones, like the drafting of Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round of this year’s draft. But he hasn’t yet gotten the kind of money he desires, remuneration that would likely put him at the top of the National Football League’s quarterback earning pile.

The QB market is red hot, with prices continuing to escalate and a new market to eventually be set when Patrick Mahomes signs a new contract in Kansas City. Prescott, having made a little more than $2 million per year to date, is determine to cash in.

“The Cowboys are extremely out of line,” Cowboys legend and Prescott’s friend, Dez Bryant, tweeted. “Pay Dak.”

Eventually, Prescott will get paid. For now, though, his route to the kind of money and status he is seeking just got a little thornier.

Maybe Jones was simply trying to get a good guy at a great price in Dalton, but the ensuing reaction means he’d have to be blind not to see how it might benefit his most critical negotiation.

These are strange times, as the NFL continues to prepare for a season that no one quite knows what it will look, sound and play out like.

There is uncertainty everywhere — not least in Dallas, where for now, the hunger and hype continues to outstrip the on-field product.