The Dak Prescott Contract Situation

With all the Dak Prescott discussion dominating the news cycle today with so many ranges of opinions I wanted to go back and look at some notable 2nd contracts signed in the last 8 years and if they can give us a more logical way to look at the situation.

Jared Goff, September 2019, $33.5 Million/4 Years

Goff was the first overall draft pick in 2016 and had completed three years in the NFL at the time of his signing. Goff’s contract did not set the market coming in at 4.3% less than the contract signed by Russell Wilson in 2018, but did expand on fellow draftee Carson Wentz’ $32.5 million contract signed three months earlier. Goff’s contract was worth about 4.7% more than Wentz’ deal. Goff also set a record for injury protection in a contract though the figure included money already guaranteed on his rookie contract. Goff had come off of back to back division titles and had played in the 2018 Super Bowl. Goff was selected to a Pro Bowl in 2018 as well.

Carson Wentz, June 2019, $32.5 Million/4 years

Wentz, the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, signed a contract that was worth 8.6% less than the top of the market at the time of signing while narrowly setting a record for injury protection, though like with Goff above included significant money from his rookie deal. Wentz’ contract was the first young player of note to do a deal after Kirk Cousins’ three year contract signed in free agency in 2018. Wentz’ contract would average 14.3% more than Cousins contract. It also represented a jump of 6.7% over Matt Ryan’s 2018 contract that made him the NFL’s first $30M per year player. Wentz was a Pro Bowl player in 2017 and a candidate to win the NFL MVP when he was injured. The Eagles would go on to win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles that season. Wentz’ team did make the playoffs the following year but he was injured again and Foles was the driver of their regular season finish.

Kirk Cousins, March 2018, $28 Million/3 years

Cousins was the first QB of note to hit free agency since Peyton Manning in 2012. Cousins is in many ways the most comparable player to Dak Prescott. Cousins was a 4th round draft pick with no playoff success leading into his free agent seasons. Cousins was older than Prescott and tagged multiple times by the Redskins but in his career only had one playoff appearance which came along with a division title in 2016. Cousins was probably looked at as someone who was going to be a perennial 7 to 9 win QB unless he found himself in the optimum situation. Cousin’s had the unique distinction of having his entire three year term fully guaranteed at signing and getting an early opportunity at a second free agency which effectively made up for lost time due to the multiple tags used by the Redskins. Though the guarantee gets the focus on this contract the real lasting impact on the NFL was the term. At the time the norm was 5 seasons. After Cousins the norm dropped to 4. Cousins contract represented a 1.8% increase in annual value over Jimmy Garoppolo, making him the highest paid player in the NFL for a short period of time.

Jimmy Garoppolo, February 2018, $27.5 Million/5 years

This was a stunning contract by the 49ers who made Garoppolo with all of 7 career starts the highest paid player in the NFL. Garoppolo was a former 2nd round pick of the Patriots and the 49ers made an in-season trade for a 2nd round draft pick to acquire him in 2017. This contract was a 1.8% bump in annual value over Matt Stafford’s 2017 contract extension with the Lions. The only logic behind the 49ers going this high was the fear that the market dynamics could dramatically change with Cousins free agency which was coming a month later. The 49ers did get exceptional terms on the guarantee and per game bonus aspect of this contract as a tradeoff for the very bullish annual value on the contract. There are some similarities to the situation between Garoppolo and Prescott when it comes to leverage.

Derek Carr, June 2017, $25 million/5 years

Carr’s contract was the first real jump for a non-elite quarterback in quite some time. Carr was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft and quickly became the Raiders starter as a rookie. Carr led the team to a respectable 7 wins in 2015 and was named as an injury replacement to the Pro Bowl. He really came into his own in 2016 leading the Raiders to 12 win season before an injury ended his season before the playoffs. In many ways his career is a bit of a poor mans Carson Wentz in that his entire success was linked to that one season and post injury never really had that same form, but his extension came before that. Still the Raiders, who were just digging out of one of the darkest periods ever for an NFL franchise, had little reason to not extend him after a playoff loss without Carr had their offense looking minor league. Carr’s contract was a 1.7% raise over that of Andrew Luck.

Andrew Luck, June 2016, $24.6 Million/5 years

Luck’s contract was an interesting one. This was the first contract that significantly moved the QB market that had been completely stagnant for some time with the contract raising the market by 11.1% while carrying a record setting $87 million in guarantees. Still it was surprising he did not get more. Luck was considered the perfect prototype for what you want in a QB. He was the first overall pick in the NFL draft and unlike Carr was looked to be a prolific passer with two seasons over 4,000 yards and a few Pro Bowls thrown in. Prior to injury Luck had won 11 games in three straight seasons and led his team to the Conference Championship round in 2014 (where they got pummeled). I remember back around this time discussing that Luck should only take a short term contract from the Colts to play the tag game so I was surprised to see him sign this contract even though this is what set the stage for the run up to $30 million within two years after it took three years to get from $22 million to this contract.

Russell Wilson, July 2015, $21.9 Million/4 Years

This is probably the contract that gives Prescott’s group the most trouble even though its so old. By 2015 Wilson had won no less than 11 games, won two division titles, appeared three times in the playoffs, and twice in the Super Bowl, winning one and losing the second on a last second interception. There were only two possible reasons for Wilson to not have been the highest paid player in the NFL- one being that he was not yet throwing for a ton of yards a game and the second is that he was only a 3rd round draft selection. Wilson wound up signing for slightly less than Aaron Rodgers who capped the market off for ages on an extension signed in 2013.

Cam Newton, June 2015, $20.76 Million/5 Years

Newton was a former number one overall draft pick and while the face of the Panthers franchise still had his doubters. Newton’s teams had been pretty up and down winning 6, 7, 12, and 5 games prior to this extension. They had won the division in 2013 but failed to advance past the Wildcard round and went 1-1 in the 2014 playoffs winning a historically bad division at 7-9. Newton was probably not considered the typical passer but was a dual threat at QB that did win the offensive rookie of the year award in 2011. This fell about 5.5% short of Rodgers’ top market contract but did just beat out Matt Ryan’s 2013 contract. Ryan was much more accomplished as a passer at the time he signed his deal and I’m sure it was considered a win by him to get an offer for more. Newton would likely regret it a year later winning the NFL MVP award and leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Injuries piled up and Newton now has a road to climb to get to a third big contract.

Matt Ryan, July 2013, $20.75 Million/5 Years

Ryan, a 3rd overall draft pick, was firmly entrenched as a big QB by this time. In his five years in the NFL Ryan had twice thrown for over 4,000 yards and appeared in two Pro Bowls. Ryan’s teams were always successful. His win totals went 11-9-13-10-13 and his team made the playoffs in four of those five years- twice as a division winner and twice as a wildcard. The question around Ryan was whether or not those regular season successes would translate into playoff wins as the Falcons playoff record was poor. It was the lack of playoff success that saw Ryan fall about 5.5% short of Rodgers while increasing 3.2% over Joe Flacco who was the reverse of Ryan was a lower drafted 1st round with playoff success but a much more limited passing resume. Ryan eventually became the first $30 million player.

Joe Flacco, March 2013, $20.1 Million/6 years

The contract that really changed things for everyone Flacco rode an extremely successful playoff run that peaked at a time when he was set to be a free agent and his current team was in really bad salary cap shape. He used that to his advantage to be just the second player to sign for at least $20 million a season edging out Drew Brees by 0.5% in becoming the NFL’s highest paid player. Flacco really changed the dynamics of what does and does not define a QB contract as he never had a 4,000 yard season, never made a Pro Bowl, never threw for more than 25 touchdowns, and wasn’t a top 5 draft pick, all things that usually seemed to indicate financial success. His teams were very successful with two division titles, perennial appearances in the playoffs, and advancement in the playoffs as well as that Super Bowl win. I personally always consider this contract as the game changer for the position that really kicked us off into the modern era of QB contracts.

Ryan Tannehill, May 2015, $19.75 Million/4 Years

By this point in time QB contracts were usually driven by players who either had sustained runs of playoff success or some type of big statistical success until Tannehill who had neither. The former 8th overall pick has finished with no better than 8 wins in his first three years in the NFL and peaked with a 4,045/27TD season when Miami locked Tannehill up hoping to get a rising player on the cheap. Tannehill’s contract was a 0.2% raise over Colin Kaepernick’s 2014 contract and 4.5% less than Flacco’s contract. This started the push to where every QB that would be a starter was going to earn at least $20 million a season.

Colin Kaepernick, June 2014, $19 Million/5 Years

Kaepernick was a very interesting case at the time. Kaepernick was absolutely dynamic as a runner for San Francisco and while raw as a passer certainly had his moments. Since replacing Alex Smith he had been very successful leading the 49ers into the Super Bowl in 2012 and to a 12-4 record and NFC Conference Championship game performance. At the time it was a question mark as to whether or not Kaepernick could get to the $20 million mark the way Flacco did a year earlier. Flacco had higher draft pedigree and a much higher floor as a passer but Kaepernick’s ceiling seemed much higher. At the end of the day they came to an agreement with a big incentive package that could move him into that Flacco range. Many criticized the contract at the time as being too team friendly and there was probably some truth to that criticism.

Where Does Prescott Fit?

Here is the breakdown of the various deals and how much they were above or below the top market deal at the time.

PlayerSignedYearsAPYCap Inflated APY% of Top Market
Jared GoffSep-194$33,500,000$35,280,021-4.3%
Carson WentzJun-194$32,000,000$33,700,319-8.6%
Matt RyanJul-135$20,750,000$33,436,179-5.7%
Joe FlaccoMar-136$20,100,000$32,388,7800.5%
Andrew LuckJun-165$24,594,000$31,393,90011.1%
Kirk CousinsMar-183$28,000,000$31,318,2840.1%
Jimmy GaroppoloFeb-185$27,500,000$30,759,0291.9%
Russell WilsonJul-154$21,900,000$30,294,389-0.5%
Derek CarrJun-175$25,005,000$29,676,5931.7%
Cam NewtonJun-155$20,760,000$28,717,420-5.4%
Colin KaepernickJun-146$19,000,000$28,314,286-13.6%
Ryan TannehillMay-154$19,250,000$26,628,629-12.5%

I think the first takeaway that I would have looking at this breakdown is that while there may be a case to be made for being the highest paid player in the NFL there amount of an increase based on past history would be very small and certainly under $36 million a year. The only first contract QB to earn a significant jump in salary was Luck. Luck’s contract came at a time when the QB market was flat for many years and had seen enough backend changes that were going to force a market correction. I’m not sure that exists right now unless one considers Cousins most recent contract to be a difference maker (I would not). Prescott is not Luck and I don’t think anyone would argue that. Luck’s number would be the equivalent to around a $39M per year contract and will be the starting point for Patrick Mahomes not Dak Prescott.

There probably also is justification for Dallas seeking a less favorable contract than what many say for Prescott. Prescott’s career is probably somewhat on par with that of Goff and Wentz as well as Newton and to a much lesser extent Ryan a generation ago. None set the market and on average wound up 6% under the top of that market. That would indicate something along the lines of a $33 million per year deal being a fair offer. The negative for Prescott when comparing to those players is that he does not have the draft status and perceived ceiling that any of those players had.

The question though is where was the market back then compared to where it is now because while those players did not reset there market we do have three comparable players who did and those players are actual better comparisons for Prescott. Those three are Cousins, Carr, and Garoppolo who each grew the market and that averages out to a 1.2% bump which works out to about $35.5M a season.

In the case of the players not resetting the market I think you had situations where the market itself was pretty set with a recent contract for a gold standard player setting a ceiling (Wilson in 2019 at the top and Rodgers in 2013 at the top) and enough of a gap between the top and bottom to negotiate somewhere in between (Cousins in 2018 and a bunch of deals at $18M for the earlier players). When the others moved the market I think you had projected market movement and changing dynamics with Carr really being the catalyst making up for Luck not pushing even higher.

It is hard to say whether or not the market has changed enough to justify a new top deal. It really all depends on how one views Cousins’ two year, $33 million extension. Two years is such a short term that using the annual value as a benchmark really is not the proper way to do it. If I were in Dallas’ shoes I would probably look at the contract as a five year, $30 million deal and predate the whole thing back to 2018. That still pushes the market but not to some massive extent. Ryan Tannehill at just under $30 million also would be considered a backend market pusher. But if you take Cousins at $33M (or even a 3 year $32M per year deal) combined with Tannehill I think you get enough to justify a contract over Goff and Wentz even if the success is less and the draft pedigree is much less. I think more would agree with that viewpoint than the market has not changed one.

As far as situations go Prescott’s is most comparable to Garoppolo’s in that Garoppolo would have likely been franchise tagged to block him from free agency. While Cousins may be a more comparable player the fact that he was a pure free agent takes that situation away. If you look at the Carr and Garoppolo deals you will see aspects that were team friendly. Carr got a miniscule signing bonus and had no prior year vesting guarantees (he did have waiver wire guarantees though). Garoppolo’s was similar with the mini signing bonus and unfavorable vesting schedule and $800K a year in per game bonuses.

Both ran 5 years and while the 4 year movement was not as prevalent as it is now there were a series of 4 years deals on the books at that point in time with Wilson being at the top followed by a number of big name veterans on their third contract. So I think there are logical reasons to say that if Prescott does wind up the highest paid it would likely be on a five rather than a four year deal. There is zero logic behind agreeing to a 3 year deal from Dallas’ perspective.  

I think for Prescott to hit a new high he would need to concede on two issues. One is the years. I think it has to be five years if he gets the APY concession. The second is that the guarantees would vest similar to the Carr contract with vesting dates in February but in the year of the guarantee.

There isn’t really a reason to justify a massive increase over Wilson’s contract at all. As stated above it would be in the $35.4-$35.5M per year range. As far as guarantees go those would also likely be under Wentz and Goff who had million from their old contracts included in their guarantees. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo reached Staffords number nor did Carr reach Luck. You would probably be looking at a guarantee in the $90M range rather than $110M range.  When you look at the cap inflated values for the contracts I could see why Dallas would hedge at these numbers but I think there is enough reason for Prescott to dig in until that is offered. If he is looking for far more than this there should likewise be reason for Dallas to dig in and say no and force the year on the tag.