Dak Prescott: The architect of the NFL's greatest contract victory
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Dak Prescott is getting paid. Handsomely, resoundingly, deservedly.
In the negotiation stakes, the four-year, $160 million deal he is reportedly set to receive from the Dallas Cowboys was a monumental win. It represented the most glorious kind of gamble, one in which an athlete backs himself and it pays off. Game, set and match.
Now comes a new game, of a type that Prescott hasn’t seen in his National Football League career to this point.
For the old story was this: a fourth-round draft pick made good, a fearless youngster outstripping what even his own team thought he could blossom into, an organization, remember, that had numerous QBs ahead of him on its draft board back in 2016.
It is wrong to say that within the confines of such a tale, Prescott couldn’t lose. Quarterbacks can always lose because the NFL’s craving for success means that patience with QBs is painfully thin, and margins of error are irrepressibly squeezed. Yet in Prescott's case, making a yearly average of less than $700,000 is going to feel like spectacular value, and it did.
Even last year, a franchise tag of $31.4 million seemed cheap(ish) in the current fiscal marketplace, as Prescott threw for 1,856 yards and had 12 total touchdowns before he suffered an ankle injury that ended his season in Week 5.
Now the perception is different. The parameters of judgment are different. The expectation is far, far different.
Now Prescott, who will collect $42 million in each of the next three campaigns, is the architect of a fresh narrative and the recipient of all the pressures that come with it. His story is no longer the underdog tale. It is a triumphant plot of how a 27-year-old quarterback stood up to the most powerful franchise in sports and made it cave to his demands.
Yet the triumph comes with a price of its own.
"I am a lifelong Cowboy fan, and I raised the kid a Cowboy fan," Prescott’s father, Nat, told the Dallas Morning News. "At 5 years old, he told me he will be a quarterback for the Cowboys. I don’t think God gives you those types of gifts to make them incomplete."
Sure, there is plenty of heartwarming stuff to consider with Prescott. But let’s not pretend the enormous contract, agreed to just before another franchise tag year would have kicked in, doesn’t come with a sense of feeling attached that will be novel to him. It can be argued that quarterbacking the Cowboys brings enough pressure in itself, yet this is far from the same.
Becoming the second-highest paid player in football means he is being salaried for a level of performance approaching that of Patrick Mahomes, who has won one Super Bowl and reached another and lives permanently in the MVP discussion space.
Prescott and his advisors used leverage and guile and flat-out bravado to get to this point, and it landed Prescott a paycheck larger than those of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson — and, next year, $17 million more than that of Tom Brady.
So the talk changes.
It is no longer the story of a young talent still learning and growing. Now it is of an established superstar and whether all that money was worth it. Judging players by their prices isn’t entirely fair, and a lot more nuance goes into it than simple cash figures.
But that’s the way things are, within this sport, among the audience and surrounding human nature. Soon enough, $40 million per year averages will be the standard for no-more-than-decent quarterbacks. But for now, such a sum comes with the expectation of getting to the Super Bowl — or darn near it.
"It is as good a deal as Prescott ever could have hoped for, an incredible deal for a player coming off a serious injury that limited him to five games and an extraordinary victory for agent Todd France, who got his quarterback client to play the waiting game to perfection," Tim Cowlishaw wrote in the Dallas Morning News.
"It’s a win for the Cowboys only in that it gets the seemingly endless Dak contract talks off the front burner for a few years."
The fact that the Prescott commitment has put the Cowboys in a tougher spot than they needed to be in – they could have had him at $30 million annually two years ago but wanted to wait and see – only serves to tighten the screws on the player somewhat.
Although the structuring of his deal allows some salary-cap relief, it is still a squeeze. When you’re allocating $160 million to one guy, there is a limit to what other moves you can make in the coming years.
Dallas needs Prescott to be worth every penny it's paying him — or somehow worth even more — if a route out of this growing stretch of barren years is to be a realistic possibility.
"For the Cowboys, coming a game shy of the Super Bowl would be a success because they haven’t done that in a quarter-century," FS1’s Nick Wright said on "First Things First." "What this guarantees is they do not enter the QB wilderness, which they were in between [Troy] Aikman and [Tony] Romo for the better part of 15 years."
Prescott’s exploits going forward will be analyzed through a whole other set of specifics. Even the gaudy numbers that came in the opening weeks of 2020 – 450, 472 and 502 yards passing in consecutive games – might not be enough.
The Cowboys, who have neither won it all nor gotten particularly close in a generation and counting, still judge their quarterbacks by their ability to win. Owner Jerry Jones, after a couple of years of bungled contract games, has finally paid for the right to that expectation.
Prescott played his hand perfectly in negotiating, and up to here, he has been everything the Cowboys could have asked for. Now, they’ll need him to be even more than that.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.