Dallas Cowboys: Understanding the economics of free agency

Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

With three high-profile players all up for new deals in 2020, the Dallas Cowboys and their fans would be wise to understand the economics of free agency.

The Dallas Cowboys are about to experience quite the rare occasion this offseason. Heading in the 2020 free agency market, Dallas has not one, not two but three key players all about to the open market.

Quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper, and cornerback Byron Jones are all free agents this offseason. The Dallas Cowboys are thankfully armed with the franchise tag, so they can operate knowing at least one of the three will be back next season.

They also have the fifth-most cap room in the entire league, currently sitting on almost $74 million in the coffers. They can make even more room by releasing a couple of veterans such as defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford ($7 million in space for just $1.1 million in dead money) and Cameron Fleming ($4 million in space for $750K in dead money).

The Dallas Cowboys will likely need all the money available if they plan on bringing back all three. Based on last year’s franchise tag numbers, the three guys listed above play three of the four most highly paid positions.

Currently, six quarterbacks are signed to contracts worth $130 million or more in total. Four of them are guaranteed over $100 million. Six average $30 million or more per year.

The majority of fans out there somehow believe that Prescott is not in this financial stratosphere. For so many reasons, that’s just plain wrong.

Of those six who are making $130 million, only Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers have won a Super Bowl. Wilson is the only “big game” winner guaranteed $100 million and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joins the other two as those making $30 million or more with jewelry on the fingers.

This is all to say that the argument of “Dak’s never won anything to deserve a big contract” makes no sense. There is also the fact that the last four major deals given to quarterbacks have all been for $128 million or more.

That means Prescott is not signing for any less than that. There is no reason for him to do so. Lastly, when you factor in that Patrick Mahomes is about to break the scale with his sure-to-be huge extension, Prescott is in the driver’s seat.

Whether or not you, the reader, think this is accurate is of no matter. Facts are facts. The only way Dak Prescott does not get $130 million or more is if he gets tagged.

Using this could be a double-edged sword for the Dallas Cowboys. On one hand, it gives them more time to negotiate a deal for a guy who is a no-brainer option as the future at the most important position on the field. On the other, not only could doing so put a sour taste in Prescott’s mouth but also it keeps the Cowboys from using it on either of the other two.

Honestly, of the three, using the tag on Cooper makes the most sense. With the tag being roughly around $17-18 million for receivers and nine guys currently averaging $16 million per year, this makes the most economic sense.

Using the tag on Cooper also allows the Dallas Cowboys to get one more full season look at a guy who has, at times, been one of the best in the league and at other times has disappeared. In 25 regular-season games, Cooper has nine games with six or more receptions, six 100+ yard games and three games with multiple touchdowns.

On the flip side, he also has five games with three or fewer receptions, nine games with 50 or fewer receiving yards and 15 games without a touchdown. For a good part of 2019, Cooper played with multiple leg injuries which contributed to his lower outputs. Still, the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to give themselves one more season before contributing huge money to Cooper.

Lastly, there is the case for Jones. Currently, there are nine cornerbacks in the league earning $65-70 million in total money. Six make $14 million per season and five are guaranteed $40 million.

It is my belief that while Byron Jones is good, he is not in this stratosphere financially. Jones is absolutely the best cornerback on the roster, but he is not exactly a playmaker. In five seasons, he has just two career interceptions. Meanwhile, of those nine aforementioned corners making the kind of money Jones will likely get, eight have multiple seasons of three or more interceptions.

Let’s not act like Jones is the modern-day Deion Sanders, alone on an island, getting no action at all. Even if this is the delusional world you want to create for Jones, Sanders had six seasons with four or more interceptions in each.

What about “Revis Island?” Wasn’t Darrelle Revis bored and lonely, playing Boogeyman to NFL quarterbacks for 11 seasons? Somehow, while never seeing any action, Revis posted four seasons of four or more interceptions.

I totally understand interceptions are not the be-all and end-all of the cornerback position. I’m also aware that Dallas Cowboys toyed with Jones, shuffling him from corner to safety and back to corner. All of this still does not mean that Dallas should spend $70 million to watch Byron play better than average cornerback.

This is especially true when you could likely sign a free agent like Trae Waynes for $9-10 million per season while bringing in guys like Pittsburgh’s Artie Burns or Kansas City’s Bashaud Breeland for $8-10 million combined and get three for almost the price of one.

These are the economics of the free-agent market for the Dallas Cowboys. It is completely conceivable that Prescott gets $35-37 million per season, Amari gets the franchise tag at around $18 million and the Cowboys use the Jones money for three guys instead of one.

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The next five weeks will be very intriguing. There are ways that the Dallas Cowboys can successfully navigate this process. There are also ways they can royally mess it up. One of these three will definitely be back in 2020. Two absolutely should. We are about to see who gets a seat and who moves on to greener wallets.