You like numbers, right? Everyone likes numbers. Well, how about this.
With 1,690 passing yards through the first four games of 2020, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is on pace to shatter the current single-season passing record (set by Peyton Manning in 2013) by more than 1,000 yards.
Manning threw for 5,477 passing yards in that magical 2013 season. Prescott may not have magic on his side, but he does have a terrible defense, and right now the numbers say what Prescott has is worth more when it comes to record-breaking.
The Cowboys have already given up 12 passing touchdowns this season, which is second most in the league. Their Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) ranking, as a whole, is 22nd, but against the pass, they are the eighth worst. Through four weeks, they have been outscored by 43 points in the first half of games, and have yielded the most total points of any defense in the NFL.
Short and maybe-not-so sweet: The Cowboys defense puts Prescott and the offense in a hole early and often, and Prescott is forced to throw his arm out nearly every game just to try to break even (which even his insane stats have barely been able to do at 1-3).
Prescott is currently playing on a franchise tag after failing to come to an agreement with the Cowboys on a contract extension this past summer. He was slapped with the exclusive franchise tag back in March, which will pay him about $31 million in 2020. This also blocked all other teams from talking to him. If he’s tagged again in 2021, the Cowboys could be on the hook for about $37 million.
It was reported the Cowboys offered Prescott a contract of five years with guarantees of $110 million. Those numbers were very similar to the extension Jared Goff, who was the top overall pick in the same class as Prescott, signed with the Los Angeles Rams. But that was not enough for Prescott. After the contract extensions of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, the market has changed since Prescott last continued his contract negotiations. As of right now, Spotrac predicts Prescott would command a 5-year, $189 million deal on the open market. That would pay him an average of $37.8 million per season, which is right around the price of a second franchise tag—in contract form, it secures him at that rate for much longer.
But can the Cowboys even afford Prescott anymore?
In 2019, they signed running back Ezekiel Elliott, pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence, and linebacker Jaylon Smith to massive extensions. In 2020, they did the same for wide receiver Amari Cooper. How much is left in the bank for Prescott?
As of right now, the Cowboys have $24 million in cap space. That’s with Prescott on the books at $31.4 million with his franchise tag. So, in theory, one would think they have the space to get between $40-45 million per year, even with the stars they’ve signed. But the problem is, the effects of the coronavirus could take a massive hit to the salary cap.
Early projections had the 2021 cap set to rise over the already all-time high at $198.2 million. But as the decisions were made to keep fans out of the stands to start the season, Adam Schefter of ESPN mentioned that teams’ revenues would be down around $100 million, which would be a $3.2 billion loss for the league as a whole, which would in turn negatively affect the cap.
Schefter said the cap could be down anywhere $30 million to $80 million in 2021. While I think it will be on the lower end of the spectrum, especially since some fans are already being let back into games a quarter into the season, even if the cap goes down around $25 million to about $170-175 million, that would be bad news for the Cowboys when it comes to re-signing their franchise quarterback.
The lower cap space means the Cowboys could be in big trouble next offseason. Though the list of “must re-sign” players beyond Prescott are smaller right now, there is a reality in play where Dallas could watch Prescott break the NFL record for most passing yards in a season, and yet their finances will force it to be his last in a Cowboys uniform.
NFL team cap managers are often magicians, but for as little as Prescott has seemed to budget to get what he’s worth on this next deal, him playing historically well only makes this negotiation more difficult for the front office in Dallas.
If Dallas doesn’t have the money to pay him, someone out there will, even with a lower cap ceiling.
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