The Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott have been at the negotiation table on and off now for the last three offseasons, and things are nearing a resolution, one way or another. Some sources are saying a deal is close. Others are saying it's not. It's difficult to tell just how close they are to concluding the ongoing contract negotiations. However, several key dates are coming up that could pressure the two sides to reach an agreement.
We're in the endgame now.
Deadline to Use the Franchise Tag: March 9th, 2021
The franchise tag period opened for NFL teams on February 23rd. Franchises that wish to utilize the franchise tag will have to do so by March 9th, nine days before the opening of NFL Free Agency.
There have been reports that the Dallas Cowboys would like to avoid using the franchise tag on Dak Prescott, which would lock their cap up with a $37.7 million cap hold whether he signs the tag or not. However, if they get to this date and don't have a deal in place, it's a near guarantee that they'll place the tag on Prescott to keep him in Dallas while they continue to work on a long-term contract.
That franchise tag hold doesn't allow the Cowboys any cap-hit flexibility. A long-term contract would allow them to lessen the year-one cap hit, pushing larger cap hits later in the deal through the structuring of the contract. It doesn't change his money, just how it's accounted for. That's why it's so important they get a deal done by the start of free agency. It provides them with more cap flexibility.
Free Agency Legal Tampering Period, March 15th and Opening of Free Agency March 17th
From March 15th to March 17th, teams can begin negotiating with outside free agents in the “legal tampering period.” Why is this important? Well, if the Cowboys have the franchise tag placed on Dak Prescott and that $37.7 million cap hold is in place, they'll be in a tough spot to negotiate any deals with outside free agents.
Even if they restructured Amari Cooper and Zack Martin's contracts, they'd still be hard-pressed to get under the salary cap by the start of the league year. If they want to have any hopes of negotiating with any potential additions, they need to have a long-term contract in place.
While they can't officially agree to any deals until March 17th, the Cowboys need to know what Prescott's 2021 salary cap hold will be by the time free agency opens on the 17th. Though they aren't generally players in the early stages of free agency, the longer the $37.7 million cap hold lingers on their books, the more difficult it will be to improve the Dallas Cowboys.
If they have any hopes of retooling their roster or improving one of the league's worst defenses during free agency, carrying Dak Prescott's franchise tag hold into free agency is mismanagement of their roster-building goals.
Franchise Tag Deadline: July 15th, 2021
While the first two dates listed are soft deadlines that put the team in a better position to be players in free agency or through trades, the actual physical deadline to reach an agreement on a long-term contract comes on July 15th, before the start of training camp. If Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys can't reach an agreement on a long-term contract by this date, Prescott plays on the tag in 2021.
Then we get to restart this whole mess over again in the offseason of 2022. Yay.
Prescott's franchise tag number would balloon to $54.3 million for 2022. If you think it'll be hard to fit $37.7 million under the 2021 salary cap, then it will be near impossible to fit $54.3 million under the 2022 salary cap. As there remains uncertainty about how many fans will be allowed in attendance, teams may see a shortfall in projected revenue again in 2021. That could potentially hinder the salary cap's growth in 2022, thus making it more difficult to get an expensive third quarterback franchise tag under the salary cap threshold.
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A deal may or may not be imminent at this time. However, it's important to note that the longer this plays out, the more it hinders the Cowboys' opportunity to improve their squad through free agency. This is why I remain optimistic that the two sides will come to an agreement by the time free agency opens on March 17th. The Cowboys need the flexibility they gain in a long-term contract in order to go shopping in free agency. To do anything else would be a gross mismanagement of the team by the front office.