As reported ad nauseam, all options are on the table for the Dallas Cowboys at quarterback, including franchise-tagging and trading impending unrestricted free agent Dak Prescott to the highest bidder.
It’s not a route the Cowboys are likely to take. But if explored, Pro Football Focus analyst Austin Gayle identified the Carolina Panthers — they of the No. 8 overall pick in April’s draft — as a logical landing spot.
Gayle’s argument is based around the projected, salary cap-killing cost of the $37.7 million tag as well as Carolina’s apparent aggressiveness in pursuing a QB upgrade this offseason.
“You can’t tag him and keep him,” he said of Prescott. “They don’t have the [cap] space; only projected [to have] $19.4 million in space. Playing him on the tag would be very difficult. If they do tag and trade Dak Prescott, a team to look out for: the Carolina Panthers.
“We’ve heard rumors that they’re trying to get aggressive at upgrading over Teddy Bridgewater. Maybe getting a Deshaun Watson. Maybe moving up in the draft to grab Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. Go get Dak Prescott. If he’s available on the tag and trade, make that upgrade over Teddy B. You have the space to do it. And let’s see if you can go win deep in the postseason with Dak Prescott under center.”
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What’s In It for Dallas?
Sure, the Panthers would be leveling up from Bridgewater, a middling starter, to Prescott, a two-time Pro Bowler. At the cost of a measly first-rounder, David Tepper and company likely would sign up for this deal, as Dak is a safer bet than any realistic rookie alternative.
But what about the Cowboys? How would they benefit from parting ways with their organizational linchpin, leaving them naked at the most important position in sports?
“It opens up space. It allows them to get aggressive in this draft class, because they’ll have the eighth and No. 10 pick in that tag and trade,” Gayle said. “Then you see a Justin Fields or Zach Wilson playing in Dallas next year. I think it’s an option that could play out. Should be an interesting one. I think Dallas and Carolina would be smart to consider this tag and trade for Dak Prescott.”
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Exceeding Difficult Proposition
Tag-and-trade deals are exceedingly rare in the NFL, especially involving a bona fide top-10 QB. (Such as with player-for-player swaps, the NBA owns a monopoly there.) To date, only one passer in league history, Matt Cassel, has ever been franchise-tendered and then shipped to another team. That happened in 2009, when Cassel was sent from the Patriots to the Chiefs.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter cautioned last month that history repeating itself with Prescott is possible — but hardly probable — despite the clock ticking on long-term contract talks prior to March 9, the final day for Dallas to apply the tag.
“To do that, they need a certain level of cooperation from Dak Prescott,” Schefter said. “He’s got to come in and sign that franchise tag knowing he’s being traded somewhere. If they had a deal worked out with somebody to a place where he didn’t want to go, what would be his incentive to sign that?
“This is, really, an unofficial no-trade tag that Dak Prescott has by getting the franchise tag, if indeed the Cowboys do put that tag on him. That would be his unofficial no-trade clause. They could not just trade him without his consent.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL