COLUMN: Dak Prescott’s $160M extension will come back to bite the Dallas Cowboys

There is no denying that the quarterback position is the most vital position in all of football, and perhaps all of sports. A team with an elite but a mediocre supporting cast (like the Seattle Seahawks) oftentimes is still better than a team with a great—or even elite—supporting cast but a mediocre quarterback (the Chicago Bears being a glaring example of this). While teams in other sports can overcome positional weaknesses in some areas when they have more skill and depth elsewhere, in football, the team will experience difficulty winning without a good quarterback driving the win.

In the rush to secure somebody for the long run as quarterback, the Dallas Cowboys made the decision to keep Dak Prescott in town for the price of $160 million. Prescott is a good quarterback, but granting him this extension—one that will pay him $160 million over the next four seasons, with $126 million of that being guaranteed money—is a mistake that will come back to bite America’s Team.

Prescott was a fourth-round draft pick who took the league by storm in his rookie season. He came out in 2016 and was dominant as the replacement for longtime starter Tony Romo. The Cowboys rolled into the playoffs with a 13-3 record with Prescott under center but went one and done, losing to the Green Bay Packers and his future coach Mike McCarthy after coming off of a bye.

Since then, has largely failed to regain his 2016 dominance. While his only statistically “bad” season was in 2017, he’s never been able to cement his status as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. He hasn’t been able to consistently measure up in the passing game compared to players like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, and he isn’t as athletic as Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Josh Allen are. What you get with Prescott is a lot of good but not a lot of great—and definitely not a lot of playoff wins.

In his career, Prescott has played with Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant, Michael Gallup, Jason Witten and an offensive line that for much of his career has been near the top of the league, yet he only has one playoff win in four seasons as a full-time starter. In fact, outside of his 13-3 rookie season, his win-loss records have been very reflective of Prescott’s overall skill set. Those records, 9-7 in 2017, 10-6 in 2018 and 8-8 in 2019, present a lot of good, but not a lot of great. The fact that Prescott’s supporting cast was pretty impressive for those three seasons also further serves as an indictment that Prescott is an underachiever who just got a big payday.

While it may be easy to blame those seasons on Prescott being paired with habitual underachiever Jason Garrett as his head coach, it’s important to note that Garrett hasn’t played quarterback since 2004. Garrett did not take those snaps, Prescott did. The quarterback bears just as much responsibility for the team’s failings as the head coach does. While it was fair to give Garrett the boot and give Prescott another shot with another coach, things are still a lot more likely to get worse than better for the supporting cast for the Cowboys. An extension as large as Prescott’s surely takes a big bite out of the cap room that could have been spent on bringing other playmakers to town.

I know many people like to complain about the franchise tag, but cases like Prescott’s are exactly why the franchise tag exists. It is perfect for teams who want to see a player prove his worth without being married to him for the long-term. 2020 was supposed to be a prove-it year for Prescott, and he proved nothing in the five games he played. Making this decision even more nonsensical is the fact that Prescott will be going into 2021 coming off of a season-ending ankle injury, which has the potential to seriously affect his athletic ability going forward.

The best decision that general manager Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys could have made here was to give Prescott one more year on the franchise tag to prove his worth. If it didn’t work out, there were other options out there. Russell Wilson, a much better quarterback than Prescott probably will ever be, likely won’t be a Seattle Seahawk in 2022, and the Cowboys were reportedly one of Wilson’s preferred destinations. A divorce between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers seems imminent at some point, and a reunion between Rodgers and McCarthy could have definitely been within the realm of possibility. The 2022 NFL Draft also should have several quality options at the quarterback position, with Sam Howell out of North Carolina and Kedon Slovis out of USC leading the way. There were more options than many might think, but instead the Cowboys decided to prematurely give a $160 million payday to a quarterback with one playoff win that’s coming off of a severe ankle injury.

Prescott is a good quarterback and he can have the Cowboys in contention for the NFC East title as long as he’s healthy and under center for America’s Team. But every team has the goal to win a Lombardi Trophy. Their goal isn’t just to be in the running to win the division. You have to have the players that can ultimately be capable of achieving such an ambitious goal. If you don’t have them, you search tirelessly for upgrades until you do. You don’t saddle yourself to guys who haven’t proven themselves to be potentially key pieces for a Super Bowl run, and that’s exactly what Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys have done.

Photo courtesy of Ron Jenkins/AP