Dak Prescott’s negotiating leverage against the Dallas Cowboys peaked last September, when the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback was playing MVP-caliber football and surged out to an undefeated start.
It was at this point that Prescott began setting his sights on a lucrative long-term contract. And it was after this point, according to Yahoo Sports NFL insider Charles Robinson, that his demands were ratcheted to the extreme.
The Cowboys felt all sorts of ways about this — none of them good. This was, Robinson revealed Wednesday, one in multiple fractious moments between the sides, helping to explain why long-term discussions remain ongoing, nary an end in sight.
“I really don’t think they are that far apart. They are just so stubbornly dug in because of how this negotiation has gone at points,” Robinson said on 105.3 The Fan. “The Cowboys could not have felt more burned than they did when they went back to Dak’s camp last September (and) the number went up. And that really was a hurtful point. I think they were not only upset at Dak’s representation, I think they were a little upset at Dak. It’s business, you know. You’d be kidding yourself to sit there and think they were never mad at Zeke (Ezekiel Elliot) during that negotiation. It’s germane to the process.
“I still think that this is something (where) they are actually not that far apart. They’re just stuck in the same distance that they have been for a long time. Because of the uncertainties, because of the fact we may have a flat cap in 2021, maybe Dak’s side … there’s a little more push to say, ‘hey, maybe we should take this, it’s a pretty good deal on the table. We’ll figure out a way to do it now and smooth out the difference in years at the last minute.’
“But, I’ll tell you this. I think if he doesn’t get the deal done by July 15th, it’s Kirk Cousins all the way. This is an ‘I’m going to go to market or I’m going to make you exhaust the tags and absolute maximize my leverage over you.'”
Prescott led the Cowboys to a 3-0 record after vanquishing with relative ease the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. His numbers for that span were outstanding, if not historic: 920 passing yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions.
Perhaps realizing his worth, staring down the barrel of unrestricted free agency, he estimated his next contract in the $40 million-per-year range, something no player in league history has ever received. Prescott’s camp relayed this figure to the Cowboys’ brass, who flatly declined.
The team reportedly counteroffered with a five-year pact worth at least $33 million annually and $105 million guaranteed. Prescott refused to settle, allegedly aiming to surpass Seattle’s Russell Wilson ($35 million annually) as the sport’s highest-paid QB.
Eight months later, the parties are still meeting infrequently at the bargaining table. The latest proposal reportedly floated from Dallas to Dak would pay the 26-year-old just under $35 million per year but includes guarantees close (if not equal) to Jared Goff’s record-setting $110 million.
But the numbers weren’t the sticking point so much as the length. Prescott wants a four-year contract while the Cowboys’ standard operating procedure calls for five-year commitments.
Which brings us to today — a day really no different than those of September 2019.
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Robinson confirmed that Prescott’s asking price was indeed influenced by his white-hot start to the 2019 campaign, which preceded Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ now-famous declaration that a deal was “imminent.”
Of course, nothing transpired from Prescott’s elevated play, nor were talks catalyzed by Jones’ remarks. Each was a front-facing, PR-friendly posture. Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the public, things were taking a turn for the resentful.
“I think they were unhappy it was something that didn’t get done before the season,” Robinson said on 105.3 The Fan. “There were a lot of signals from the organization in camp and then really in the beginning of the regular season that we’re going to get this done. And Jerry (Jones) was telling everybody it’s going to get done, they were so optimistic about it. And Dak’s camp didn’t feel that way. They were like, ‘look, we’re not going to give you the long-term control here.’ It was a negotiation that was never great from the start.
“I’ve told this story before that, from what I understood, the Cowboys very first number, we’re talking way back at the start of the negotiations … that Dak’s camp thought the first number was a low-ball number, and (then they) threw back a number at the Cowboys that was just ridiculous. It was sort of like the meme of the guys flipping each other off, that’s kind of how the negotiation started. And as Dak progressed and improved and became more entrenched there as the guy, and went out and performed … his camp was like, ‘we don’t have to budge here. We got the guy who’s getting better. We have the commodity and he’s betting on himself and he’s winning right now. They felt like early in the season that he won, when the Cowboys wanted to re-engage and push it again after that start (3-0). They just said, ‘look, our price went up and we told you this could happen, and it happened.’ That was it. … It really hasn’t changed significantly since that moment in September. … They’re still arguing over the same things they were then.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL