The Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
Otherwise, Prescott will play 2020 for the Cowboys on a $31.4 million exclusive franchise tag. Negotiations remain stuck over factors including length of contract.
Prescott and his representation aren’t entertaining extensions longer than four seasons. The Cowboys want to lock up their franchise quarterback for at least five. It’s that dispute that didn’t line up with a report that gained traction this week from former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, who now works for NBC Sports.
“From what I know of the situation, and I know from some people who are in the know that he’s been offered five years, $175 million,” Simms said Tuesday on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. “He wants a four-year deal. If they do agree to a five-year deal, they would like a really big number at the end of that fifth year to cover their butts for what the market might be at the position five years from now. And I’ve heard he’s asking for somewhere like north of $45 million in that fifth year.”
Prescott has not requested a fifth-year salary of $45 million or more, his representation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Thursday afternoon. Prescott has not, in fact, requested a fifth-year salary of any amount: His desire to sign a deal no longer than four years remains firm.
The NFL salary cap has risen steadily in recent years, including a $10 million jump this offseason to $198.2 million. That number is expected to continue to rise over time. Novel coronavirus-related changes could reduce 2020 revenue and create a one-year setback. But multiple factors bode well long-term.
To start, NFL popularity is strong: TV ratings increased 5 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to Nielsen, and NFL games were 41 of the 50 most-watched broadcasts on television in 2019. The product itself is expanding, too. The NFL and NFL Players Association ratified their next collective bargaining agreement, agreeing to expand the playoff pool and add a 17th game to the regular-season schedule beginning in 2021. Add increased momentum for legalization of sports gambling and a looming TV deal extension, and the proverbial pie stands to grow.
“For somebody to say you can only take so much because of the salary cap or you can only do this or that, I don’t know how fair that is to say,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports last summer. “Because with gambling, with everything going into this league, everything is going to continue to keep going up.
“At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, a year or two later, you’re not going to be the highest-paid. That’s just the way the game goes.”
These trends fuel Prescott’s pursuit of a shorter deal. A shorter deal enables the quarterback — who, despite having 64 starts under his belt, is just 26 years old — to return to the negotiating table sooner. A shorter deal reduces the chance that should Prescott continue to improve with new coach Mike McCarthy, his deal ends up far beneath the value of a market that has trended consistently up. In 2019, Prescott threw for a career-best 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. His 99.7 rating was his best since a rookie-season 104.9 in 2016.
The Seahawks, Eagles and Rams last year signed quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff to four-year extensions, respectively. Each had years remaining on his existing deal at the time.
The Cowboys and Prescott discussed his extension last offseason but didn’t reach agreement. From September to February, they didn’t negotiate further. In March, the Cowboys designated Prescott with an exclusive franchise tag that prevented him from negotiating with other teams.
There has not been momentum on negotiations in recent days or weeks, two people familiar with negotiations confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of negotiations.
The Cowboys have signed a slew of stars to deals in recent years as deadlines approached. Star receiver Dez Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million extension on July 15, 2015, with hours to spare before the negotiating window closed. Twice-tagged defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence received his five-year, $105 million deal last April under a threat that he would not have offseason shoulder surgery — and thus begin his recovery timeline before the season — until a deal was done. Most recently, the Cowboys ended running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 41-day training camp holdout last September, four days before their season opener.
The Cowboys and Prescott have a little less than two months to negotiate in this window before Prescott counts $31.4 million against the team’s 2020 salary cap. Tagging him in 2021 would cost $37.68 million.
Prescott has said playing on a tag would only further solidify his “prove-it” goals.
“Hopefully it sends the same message that this year sent,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports. “But obviously, I want to win. I’m somebody that I’ve gambled on myself my whole life. That’s kind of what it is. I’ve been doubted and told people they’re wrong.
“When you’re playing out a situation, when you’re playing out a contract, there’s no different mindset than that.”
Regardless of the financials, owner Jerry Jones insists the Cowboys — who signed nine-year Bengals starter Andy Dalton this month — are committed to Prescott as their starter in 2020 and beyond.
“When we’re ready to play,” Jones said, “he’ll be here.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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