Dallas Cowboys vs. Dak Prescott: Who has the leverage?

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 20: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles in the game at AT&T Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 20: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles in the game at AT&T Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

With little progress made on the contract situation and the franchise tag looking likely, who has more leverage: the Dallas Cowboys or Dak Prescott?

In just five days, the franchise tag window will open on February 25. At that point, the clock will begin ticking and the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott will have two weeks to work out a deal.

If no long-term deal has been made by March 10, then the Cowboys will almost certainly place the franchise tag on the 26-year-old quarterback. Keep in mind, both sides will still have until July 15 to work out a multi-year contract after the tag has been applied.

It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one that’s looking more and more likely with each passing day. Both sides have expressed a desire to work out a deal, but coming to an agreement is easier said than done — especially when you’re talking a figure upwards of $40 million.

A nonexclusive franchise tag would see Prescott paid somewhere in the high-$20 million range for the 2020 season. If Dallas applies an exclusive tag, he’ll be set to earn over $30 million (the average of the top five salaries at the quarterback position).

It’s hard for an every day Joe like me to scoff at either of those numbers, but Dak Prescott is also someone who seems to believe he’s a $40 million quarterback. If you value yourself at a certain figure, would you take less? I suppose it depends on your options and if you’ve got leverage.

So between the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott, which side has more leverage in this situation? Under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), most would agree that the team is in a stronger position.

For starters, the Cowboys control the tag type. An exclusive tag means Dak Prescott would be unable to negotiate with any other team for the entire season; it’s either Dallas or no one. It also means he’s be paid the average of the top five salaries at the quarterback position, which isn’t cheap.

A nonexclusive tag would allow Prescott to negotiate with other teams, but still give the Cowboys a chance to match any offer sheet. If they decline to match the offer, then they receive two first-round picks as compensation from the team that signs him — not a bad deal. There’s also a third tag, the transition tag, but I can’t imagine the Cowboys will resort to this one.

In either of these tag situations, Prescott is left with limited choices. He can either accept the tag and play for the guaranteed season salary without the security of a long-term deal, or he can hold out and refuse to play. The latter means not getting paid, but the former means possibly jeopardizing his future value should he get injured or under-perform. Neither situation is ideal for him.

Limited options doesn’t mean Prescott doesn’t have leverage though. His negotiating leverage comes in the form of new head coach Mike McCarthy, who was brought in after the Cowboys parted ways with Jason Garrett.

With a new head coach comes significant changes, and likely a new offensive system. By not immediately signing the tag, Prescott can elect not to show up for offseason workouts. It’s pretty hard to install a new offense if your starting quarterback isn’t there.

Prescott has already hinted at the possibility of skipping the Cowboys offseason program if he’s hit with the franchise tag. You can bet that probably won’t sit well with Mike McCarthy, who almost certainly wants as much time as possible with the young quarterback to help improve his mechanics. Perhaps Prescott can rely on McCarthy pressuring the Cowboys’ brass to get a deal done.

Outside of disrupting the offseason program, Prescott’s only other option would be to sit out the entire season, much like running back Le’Veon Bell did with the Pittsburgh Steelers when they placed the franchise tag on him for a second-straight season. Think of the drama and headache that would ensue if this happens.

Should Prescott go down this route, he would sacrifice an entire season without pay. This is, by far, the riskiest move he could make as there’s no guarantee the Cowboys wouldn’t place a second franchise tag on him the following season. This seems like it would be a complete nightmare scenario for both sides, with no real winner, so let’s hope it doesn’t go this route.

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Right now, the most likely option for the Dallas Cowboys if a deal doesn’t get done is the exclusive tag. It would give Dallas, along with Mike McCarthy, another chance to really analyze Dak Prescott and determine if he’s a franchise quarterback worthy of being paid top-dollar. In this situation, Dak Prescott would be the clear loser; but, $30-something million is certainly enough to retire on so I can’t feel totally sorry for him.