Dak Prescott officially signed his one year, $31.409 million franchise tag today guaranteeing that Prescott will attend the start of training camp (assuming there is a camp). The one year contract officially guarantees Prescott’s salary for the year though that is just a formality as the Cowboys were never rescinding the offer. The two sides have until July 15 to work out a long term extension, otherwise he will play the year out on the tag.
A lot has been written about why he choose to sign today ranging from good will gestures in a contract negotiation to adding leverage to his side because of the cost of the tag. I’d lean more toward making sure he is in the best position to win this year as the highest end QB salaries are usually based on overall team performance while most other positions are not. If he is to play the year out on the tag the best chance of getting a big raise in an offer comes from a division title and deep playoff run not holding out, watching his team win or lose a few games and then come back and finish 8-8. But it could be anything.
That said I just wanted to clear up a few misconceptions that I have seen online about the concept of a tender and leverage. In most cases the leverage on a first franchise tag almost always lies with the team and not the player. While we get wrapped up in a large salary cap figure ($31.409 million is the largest in the NFL this year) the actual fact is the $31.409 million salary is pretty small relative to what Dallas would pay him on an extension. As a point of reference Ryan Tannehill this year will earn $37.5 million in the first year of his extension.
The large salary cap number is already baked into the Cowboys numbers for this season and even in the event they wanted to make a trade for a certain disgruntled safety from NY they should be able to swing it with or without a contract extension.
The leverage the player holds really doesn’t kick in until a team is faced with a third franchise tag, though in the case of the Cowboys I’d say it does kick in next year when a projected tag for Prescott will equal $37.691 million. While this doesn’t put the cash pressure on Dallas (again a two year cash salary of $69.1M for a QB would rank 6th in the NFL) their cap situation is such that it would put them in a difficult spot next season when they dont project to have the cap room to cover that tag even if the growth in the salary cap is normal. That is essentially the leverage that Joe Flacco had with the Ravens a generation ago to land one of the most player friendly contracts in NFL history.
My opinion is that for Prescott to really leverage the situation he has to make it known that he is willing to play on two tags and would need to be blown away by an offer to sign an extension prior to the start of free agency, which is when teams have to be under the salary cap. It’s not a path many take (Kirk Cousins in the only QB to do so) but the payoff is pretty massive if you get there. Not only is the salary payoff gigantic but you have effectively blocked yourself from ever getting franchised again in your career.
The heart of this contract dispute seems to be the length of the contract more than the contract value. Dallas wants 5 years of control. Prescott is willing to give up 4. Playing this year on the franchise tag to just turn around and sign a four year contract really ends up at the same point so for Prescott the tag only makes sense if his play leads to a big increase in a 4 or 5 year contract offer next season or he forces the Cowboys hand to tag him again. Dallas caving and doing a four year contract now avoids potential cap landmines next season but could hurt them with negotiating with other players on their team and would lessen their long term hold on Prescott.
One way around that could be to do a five year deal like Dallas wants but to concede a no franchise or transition provision at the end of the five year contract. While that ties Prescott to Dallas for five seasons he would be free and clear after those five years unlike the Wentz/Goff group who can be tagged and controlled for two more seasons past their recent extensions. The sides could also look to negotiate a fifth year contract void based on some kind of performance indicators like appearing in a Super Bowl. The point is there are creative ways to make both sides happy though sometimes its hard to get that point across in a quick tweet when a contract is signed.