The contract negotiations that had been the talk of the NFL and perhaps the sports world for the last two offseasons finally came to a conclusion yesterday afternoon as the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott agreed to what amounts to a four-year $160 million deal with $126 million guaranteed. The Cowboys and agent Todd France worked in two voidable years at the end of the contract to allow the cap hit to be spread a little bit more delicately over the course of the contract.
It was the domino that had to fall for the Cowboys to have any kind of plan for the offseason to improve a roster that underwhelmed defensively and was inconsistent offensively when Prescott went down. Now, with the way the Cowboys and Prescott’s representatives structured the contract, the Cowboys aren’t as cap-strapped as many thought they might be.
Prescott’s year one cap hit will only be $22 million. While that puts them in the negative in terms of cap space in 2021 by just over $1.5 million it won’t take much effort for the Cowboys to find themselves under the cap by the start of the NFL league year on March 17th.
In year two of the contract, Prescott’s cap hit only goes up to $33 million. In year three, it’s $44 million. In year four, the Cowboys would be looking at a cap hit of $47 million. Now, before you scoff at these numbers, know that there will be players surpassing that in the next offseason. Also, after year three, the Cowboys and Prescott can negotiate an extension, which they cold then structure in a way that his year-one cap hit isn’t as harmful to the rest of the team.
The long-term deal afforded everyone the opportunity to get what they were wanting in the contract. Prescott gets paid and the Cowboys get cap flexibility. The NFL has yet to announce the cap figure for the 2021 season and it appears they and the NFL Player’s Association are still working on an agreement for this season. While most salary cap projections are using the $180 million floor to assess teams’ cap space, it’s very possible that the salary cap will be considerably higher than expected in 2021 as teams look to borrow from future cap years.
Now as the team prepares for the annual spending spree that is NFL free agency, they’ve put themselves in a position to be players when it opens. With potential restructures of Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, and DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys could find up to $41 million between the couch cushions for their draft selections and veterans. They won’t necessarily restructure all of them, but they could.
And that is why it was always important to get Prescott’s deal done before the start of the league year and free agency. Carrying Prescott’s $37.7 million franchise tag number into the signing period was going to hinder their ability to pursue any free agents without using the restructure switch on a couple of contracts. However, now with Prescott’s year-one cap hit much more manageable at $22 million for 2021, whatever cap space they create through restructures will be used to sign players to bolster the roster.
With just eight days until free agency opens and six days until the legal tampering period begins, the Dallas Cowboys are in great shape. They have their franchise quarterback signed. They’re in a good spot when it comes to the draft. And armed with the 10th overall pick the Cowboys have an opportunity to add a day one difference maker come April.
It was a long-time coming, but the Cowboys have their biggest question answered with a resounding, “yesterday was a great day to pay Dak Prescott.”