If the Dallas Cowboys want to avoid using the franchise tag on Quarterback Dak Prescott then today starts a two-week window to get a long-term contract signed. The deadline for teams to tag players in 2021 in Tuesday, March 9th.
The much-publicized negotiations between Prescott and the Cowboys, which at this point go back to 2019, remain the dominant storyline for the franchise. The drama has only intensified with time and increasing potential costs to the Cowboys if they have to resort to a second-straight franchise tag in 2021.
After playing 2020 on a franchise tag salary of $31.4 million, Dak's cap hit would rise to $37.7 million next season if tagged again. That would give Prescott the third-highest salary cap number in 2021 among all NFL quarterbacks.
The Cowboys need to get a multiyear contract done with Prescott so that there's room to soften the immediate blow to the cap. Often you'll see teams do what's essentially an immediate restructure with the first year of a new contract, converting base salary into a signing bonus.
Dallas needs this flexibility as it deals with the reduced salary cap in 2021. While the official number hasn't been set yet, projections range around $15-$18 million less next season than a year ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic reduced revenues and caused this lower number.
The Cowboys are in a better position to handle this than some thanks to having $25.4 million in unused cap space from 2020 carrying over to next season. But even with those funds, general inflation from existing contracts and the need to retain and add new talent in free agency and the draft quickly drains the wallet.
That's why this extra $6.3 million for Prescott if he's franchise tagged again is such a big deal. It's not a lot of money on paper but it's a sizeable enough chunk that it means missing out on at least one solid free agent or perhaps a few quality roleplayers.
But even more importantly, getting Dak's cap number much lower through a multiyear contract would give the Cowboys far more room to operate this offseason.
Thankfully, March 9th isn't a point of no return. Even if the franchise tag is used the two parties could still complete a long-term deal before free agency opens on March 17th. That's when the impact of Prescott's contract, for good or bad, will truly begin.
Hopefully, after almost two years of talks, the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott can finally stop courting and put a ring on it. Both sides have said all the right things about wanting to stay together but talk is forever cheap. It's time to prove it.