The best indicator of the future is the past. And if history repeats itself, Dak Prescott will be wearing another team’s colors next year.
The Dallas Cowboys star finds himself in fairly uncharted waters, the eighth quarterback since 1993 to receive the franchise tag, per NFL Research. Even rarer, only two have actually played a regular season on the tag.
Here’s the kicker: Both of them — Drew Brees in 2005 and Kirk Cousins in 2016 and 2017 — signed deals with new teams the following year.
Then a member of the San Diego Chargers, having suffered a significant shoulder injury, Brees was lowballed in the form of an incentive-laden, five-year, $50 million offer. After the Chargers refused to up the ante, Brees took his talents to New Orleans, inking a six-year, $60 million deal that included “just” $10 million in guarantees. Times were much different in 2006, if it wasn’t obvious.
Seven Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title (and MVP) later, Brees landed a five-year, $100 million extension from the Saints. The deal, consummated in 2012, guaranteed $40 million at signing and featured a $37 million signing bonus. As the QB market began to skyrocket, this represented a colossal score.
This past March, Brees, 41, landed a two-year, $50 million extension, half of which is guaranteed, bumping his career earnings to a whopping $244.7 million — $231.5 million from the Saints, $13.1 million from the Chargers — across 19 seasons.
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Cousins’ Financial History
Currently the Minnesota Vikings‘ starter, “Captain Kirk” was in Dak’s position three short years ago: franchise-tagged and unable to attain generational wealth. Then with the Washington Redskins, Cousins was tagged in 2016, and again in 2017, before finally experiencing financial freedom.
The tenders raked in $19.9 million and $23.9 million, respectively. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but still a far cry from what Cousins believed he was worth, compared to his NFL counterparts.
Cousins’ short-term setbacks ultimately paid off. He broke the mold in 2018 by signing a fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal with Minnesota, earning an annual salary of $28 million while preserving a second bite at the apple in his prime. That bite came early — this March, when Cousins was rewarded with a fully-guaranteed, two-year, $66 million extension, which included a $30 million signing bonus.
It became increasingly apparent as 2019 wore on that Prescott might be destined for a similar fate. Around the time this was happening, Minnesota polished off Dallas, 28-24, in an early November matchup, after which Cousins shared a crucial bit of advice with his NFC cohort.
“Anybody who I run into who’s been franchise tagged, we have one on our team this year in Anthony Harris, I believe the franchise tag can be your friend,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something to be disappointed with. I think it enables you to be well compensated, and deservedly so, for the upcoming season. Then, I always say the cream will rise to the top. If you’re good enough, the cream’s going to rise to the top, and you’re going to get compensated the way you want to. Sometimes it doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like, but if you deserve it, and you’ve earned it, it’s going to happen. So you’ve just got to stay the course and stay patient. Certainly in my journey, it all worked out. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing.
“So my message to Dak, when I saw him midseason last year, was, ‘Hey, whatever happens, don’t be afraid of the tag. It can be your friend, and you can use it to your advantage.’”
Dak’s Potential Trajectory
The Cowboys and Prescott have less than 48 hours, as of this writing, to reach a multi-year agreement. Recent media reports have unequivocally stated a deal is “not close” and there “isn’t a lot of optimism” that will change ahead of Wednesday’s 3 p.m. CT deadline.
Assuming Prescott doesn’t accept what Dallas has proposed — nowhere near Patrick Mahomes money and possibly short of Russell Wilson’s $35 million APY baseline — he’ll ride out the 2020 campaign on his $31.4 million tag.
If tagged again next offseason, he’d collect $37.7 million, a mandatory 120 percent increase, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Meaning he’d clear almost $70 million before likely hitting free agency — still only 28 years old.
By that point, in 2022, when Mahomes $503 million megapact goes into effect, QB salaries easily could blow past $45-50 million annually, putting Prescott on a path similar to Brees’, be it with the Cowboys or an opposing club.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL